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Africa
Men jailed over Ivorian toxic waste
In 2006 17 people were killed and thousands made ill from dumping in Ivory Coast.
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2008 14:15 GMT
A woman who reportedly became disfigured after the dumping of toxic waste in August 2006 [AFP]
 

Two men have been jailed in the Ivory Coast over the dumping of toxic waste, which killed 17 people and made thousands ill.

In the sentencing on Wednesday, Salomon Ugborugbo, the Nigerian director of the local Tommy company which had used trucks to distribute the waste in 2006 at open sites across the Ivorian commercial capital Abidjan, was given a 20-year sentence on the charge of "poisoning".

The prosecution had asked for a life sentence. Desire Kouao, an Ivorian shipping agent, received a five-year sentence for "complicity" in the same charge.

Seven local port customs and maritime officials were acquitted of charges over their role in the toxic waste scandal which shocked the world's number one cocoa producer and raised questions about the dumping of toxic materials in Africa.

No representatives from the Dutch-based international oil trader, Trafigura, which had chartered the Panamanian-registered Probo Koala vessel that unloaded the waste in Abidjan, were accused in the trial that had opened late last month.

Trafigura had already agreed a nearly $200 million out-of-court compensation settlement with the Ivory Coast government which exempted it from legal proceedings in the West African country.

The company denies any responsibility for the deaths and illnesses suffered by Abidjan residents after the dumping.

Vincent T'sas, an independent journalist in the Ivory Coast, told Al Jazeera: "People are saying that the main culprits are not in court - the people of Trafigura - and they could have been because they have spent - right after this dumping - six months in prison here.

"One of the prisoners was the president of Trafigura, but after six months he was released because the company made a deal with the government saying OK, we will pay $200,000 million if you free us.

"That is what angers people. People are still suffering," he said.

Toxic 'slops'

Exposure to noxious fumes has left many people needing treatment [AFP]
When the Abidjan trial opened, Trafigura said in a statement it would present independent experts to prove the waste could not have been responsible for their illness.

The petrochemical waste was described by Trafigura as "slops", residues from gasoline mixed with caustic washings.

Defence lawyers in the Abidjan hearings had repeatedly complained that it was unfair for their clients to be in the dock when executives from Trafigura were not on trial.

But the Dutch-based company faces a possible class-action suit next year in London courts brought by a British law firm representing thousands of Ivorian victims seeking tens of millions of dollars in compensation.

Many victims have already been compensated from the out-of-court settlement, but many say they have not received enough compensation.

At the height of the scandal in 2006, Abidjan hospitals were overwhelmed as thousands sought treatment for vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea and breathing difficulties after exposure to noxious fumes.

T'sas said on Thursday: "I went to a village near the dump today and I saw a woman who was covered in sores who has had them since the dumping in 2006.

"It's raining at the moment in Abidjan and the fumes of the toxic waste are still in place. Although there has been a clean-up operation, it has not been completlely cleaned."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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