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News > World

Italian Asbestos Scandal: 3,000 Victims, No Culprit Found

  • A woman holds a sign saying

    A woman holds a sign saying "Mr Schmidheiny, your place is in prison," during the trial in Turin, February 13, 2013. (Photo: AFP) | Photo: AFP

Published 20 November 2014

After years of judicial procedures, the 3,000 victims of the lethal mineral will likely never receive justice.

The Italian Supreme Court acquitted on Wednesday the Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, former owner of asbestos-producer Eternit, and main shareholder of the group, which went bankrupt in 1986 before causing the death of 3,000 employees and residents.

The court ended seven years of judicial proceedings due to an alleged statute of limitations. It thereby rejected a 16-year prison sentence previously pronounced in 2012, which had become an 18-year sentence in a 2013 appeal ruling, in addition to a US$112 billion fine to compensate the victims.

The Supreme Court requested the cancellation of the charges for “permanent and intentional catastrophe over health and environment,” arguing that this crime could not be prosecuted 12 years after it had happened. In this case, it had expired in 1998, whereas the investigation by the Public Prosecutor in Turin started in 2004. The lower courts, on the contrary, rejected the “statute of limitation” argument, claiming the aftermath of the catastrophe was still going on, as many people in the north of the country – where the four Eternit factories were, are still dying from pleura cancers, which spreads between the lungs and chest wall.

The sentence came as a shock to the 3,000 Italian families. They argued that an environmental catastrophe causes long-term pollution, so the statute of limitations should not apply.

Turin Attorney General Raffaele Guariniello, in charge of the investigation, declared, “We will not give up.” She opened 50 new judicial proceedings against Schmidheiny, this time not over environmental and sanitary catastrophe charges but for voluntary manslaughter. As for the head of the Italian government, Merreo Renzi, he promised on Twitter a judicial reform, modifying the statute of limitations.

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