The oil trader, Trafigura, has been fined €1-million (R9,55-million) for illegally exporting tonnes of hazardous waste to West Africa.
It is the first time the London-based firm has been convicted of criminal charges over the environmental scandal, in which 30 000 Africans were made ill when the toxic waste was dumped in Côte d’Ivoire.
A court in the Netherlands also ruled this week that the firm had concealed the dangerous nature of the waste when it was initially unloaded from a ship in Amsterdam.
Eliance Kouassi, president of the victims’ group in Côte d’Ivoire, said: “Finally Trafigura has been called out in a court of law. It’s a real victory for us.” But the fine is only half the amount sought by the Dutch prosecutors.
Amsterdam district court Judge Frans Bauduin also convicted a Trafigura employee and the Ukranian captain of the ship that carried the waste for their roles in the 2006 scandal.
The seven-week trial centred on Trafigura’s initial attempt to get rid of the waste cheaply in Holland. Prosecutor Look Bougert told the court that Trafigura had put “self-interest above people’s health and the environment”.
The prosecutor said Trafigura initially tried to conceal how dangerous the waste was, adding that the firm wrongly described it as routine slops from ordinary tank cleaning.
Residents complained about the foul smell. The company hired to dispose of the waste in the Netherlands wanted more money for the job.
Trafigura then pumped the toxic waste back on to its tanker. The vessel, the Probo Koala, was sent to Côte d’Ivoire, where the cost of getting rid of the waste was much lower. Instead of disposing of it properly, Trafigura “dumped it over the fence” in Abidjan, Bougert said. “Cheap, but with consequences,” he said.
Last year, amid an international furore, Trafigura was forced to pay compensation totalling £30-million (R350-million) to the thousands of Africans who needed medical treatment.
The payments were settled out of court after a civil legal action was brought by London lawyers Leigh Day. Three years ago, in another settlement, Trafigura paid £100-million to the Côte d’Ivoire government to help clean up the waste.
Trafigura has consistently denied wrongdoing, insisting that the waste could not have caused serious illness. After yesterday’s verdict, it said it would consider an appeal.
“While Trafigura is pleased to have been acquitted of the charge of forgery, it is disappointed by the judge’s ruling on the other two, which it believes to be incorrect. Concerning the delivery of dangerous goods, it is important that the court has noted that there was limited risk to human health from these slops and indeed no damage occurred in Amsterdam.”
The court convicted Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed of leading the effort to dump the waste “while its dangerous nature was concealed”. Ahmed was fined €25 000 (R240 000) and given a six-month suspended sentence. —