Swiss billionaire jailed for 18 years over workers’ deaths

Turin, June 4 (IANS/AKI) A court in the northern Italian city of Turin has jailed Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny for 18 years for asbestos-linked tumours in workers at his cement plant.

The sentence increased his jail term by two years from the 16 years he received at the original trial.

The Turin appeals court upped Schmidheiny’s sentence for failing to adequately protect workers at two asbestos-cement plants run by the now-defunct Eternit in Italy until the 1980s.

The news was welcomed by the president of the Italian association for Eternit victims and families, 84-year-old Romana Blasotti, who has lost five members of her own family to asbestos dust.

“I am extremely happy the the sentence was increased,” Blasotti said.

Hundreds of former Eternit employees travelled to Turin, including 100 from France, for Monday’s hearing.

Eternit’s products were also used to pave streets and courtyards or as roof insulation in the towns around the factories without warnings about the dangers of asbestos, resulting in decades-long exposure for the local population, according to prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello.

Some 2,100 people have died from asbestos-linked tumours among Eternit staff, their families and people living near the factories affected by asbestos dust in the air, while hundreds more are ill.

At the original trial in February 2012, Schmidheiny was convicted with former Eternit managing director Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, who has since died.

Schmidheiny can now appeal to Italy’s supreme Court of Cassation.

In October 2011, Eternit agreed to pay out almost nine million euros in compensation to workers at another asbestos-cement plant in the Sicilian town of Siracusa.

In 1993, four ex-Eternit managers were jailed for wilfully neglecting safety regulations after 137 workers filed suits against them.

–IANS/AKI

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