Long sentences possible for Ivorian waste crimes

Suspects charged in connection with the dumping of toxic waste in Côte d’Ivoire, which killed seven people and made thousands ill, could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted, a Justice Ministry official said.

Ten people have been charged under the West African state’s toxic waste laws and imprisoned in the main city Abidjan, where the deadly black sludge was discarded at several open-air sites after being unloaded from a tanker.

These included two French executives for Trafigura Beheer BV, a major oil and oil products trader which chartered the vessel, the Greek-owned Probo Koala.

The two men, Trafigura director Claude Dauphin and West Africa manager Jean-Pierre Valentini, face additional charges under the former French colony’s poisoning laws.

“For poisoning, it’s a sentence of 20 years in prison and for the infraction relating to the toxic waste, it’s a sentence of between 15 and 20 years,” Aly Yeo, chief of staff to the justice minister, told Reuters on Friday.

“[The two Frenchmen] have been charged with poisoning which means administering a substance which can harm or kill the population,” he said, adding anyone convicted of multiple offences would serve their sentences concurrently.

Thousands suffered vomiting, stomach pains, nausea, breathing difficulties and nosebleeds caused by pungent fumes from the waste, which independent experts say contained hydrogen sulphide, a chemical which can be deadly in high concentrations.

Trafigura described the substance unloaded from the vessel as slops from the gasoline blend stock cargo it had been carrying and said it contained a mixture of gasoline, water and caustic washings.

The firm said it advised Ivorian authorities that the waste needed to be disposed of correctly and had delivered it in Abidjan to a local Ivorian waste disposal firm, Tommy, which it said had government approval to handle the chemical slops.

Public outcry over the dumping, which caused panic in Abidjan and sent more than 60 000 people rushing to hospitals, caused the Ivorian government to resign earlier this month.

President Laurent Gbagbo last week named a new mostly unchanged government for the divided country, split since a 2002-2003 civil war between a rebel-held north and government-controlled south.

Yeo said the judicial investigation could take months and could draw upon evidence gathered by a month-long inquiry launched on Thursday by interim prime minister Charles Konan Banny.

He said a further five people, including truck drivers and warehousemen who handled the waste, had been charged but not detained and that further arrests were likely. - Reuters