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Lawyers blast verdict in Ivory Coast toxic waste case

The waste "slops" from the Probo Koala were dumped at several public sites by tanker trucks used by Ugborugbo's company. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Abidjan (AFP) Oct 23, 2008
Lawyers for two men jailed for dumping deadly toxic waste in Abidjan in 2006 criticised the sentences Thursday, saying many of those who bore responsibility for the scandal had walked free.

"They didn't want the truth to come out," said lawyer Bambaoule Diabete, whose client Salomon Ugborugbo was sentenced to 20 years.

"They want national and international opinion to believe that the guilty have been punished."

More than 500 cubic metres of toxic waste from a Panamanian-registered cargo ship were dumped at public sites across Abidjan in August 2006, killing 17 people and causing more than 100,000 to seek medical help for breathing problems.

Ugborugbo, a Nigerian national, was head of the Tommy company which dumped the waste from the Probo Koala, a cargo ship operated by Dutch multinational Trafigura.

Essoin Kouao, who worked as a shipping agent at the Port of Abidjan, received a five-year jail term for complicity in the poisoning.

Seven other people charged in the case were acquitted.

But according to Kouao's lawyer Herve Gouamene, those who bore most responsibility for the scandal had never even been brought before the court. "We couldn't have the truth because the main actors in the affair weren't here," said Gouamene, who accused the Ivorian authorities of trying to "protect" Trafigura.

Trafigura escaped prosecution after reaching a 152-million-euro (215-million-dollar) settlement with the Ivorian government in February last year in return for indemnity against prosecution. The company has never admitted liability.

The day after the deal was signed, three executives of the multinational were released from detention in Abidjan and allowed to leave the Ivory Coast.

The waste "slops" from the Probo Koala were dumped at several public sites by tanker trucks used by Ugborugbo's company.

"We still don't know how the waste arrived in Ivory Coast, nor how it had been declared as ordinary slops, meaning used water, while in fact it was toxic waste," said Gouamene, saying that the two convicted men could not have known that the material was deadly.

The slops were in fact a toxic mix of petroleum residues, sulphur and caustic soda which had accumulated in the ship.

Defence lawyers had protested about the fairness of proceedings from the outset.

At the opening session on September 29, the defence condemned the absence of people deemed key witnesses in the case, including an official of local Trafigura subsidiary Puma Energy.

The official was cleared by a court in March along with the parent company.

They also protested they were unable to obtain some of the prosecution documents.

The prosecution insisted throughout that the state had not compromised the judicial system by its acceptance of the Trafigura deal, and justified the dismissal of the charges against the Trafigura executives by the fact they had played no personal role in the dumping.

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'Toxic' ship dismantled in Bangladesh despite court ban
Chittagong, Bangladesh (AFP) Oct 22, 2008
A ship described by Greenpeace as "hazardous" is being dismantled off the coast of Bangladesh despite a court order banning it from the country's shores, its owner said Wednesday.

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