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Eternit lawsuit (re asbestos exposure in Italy)

asbestos cementPour la version française de ce profil, cliquez ici.

In 2004, prosecutors in Turin, Italy, investigated the death of a man who had died of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related lung disease.  The deceased man was a former employee of the Swiss building firm, Eternit.  On 12 December 2004, the Asbestos Victims Families Association of Casale sent a statement to Turin’s public prosecutor with names of 1000 people who had fallen ill or died as a result of asbestos exposure.  The prosecutor launched a wider investigation into asbestos-related deaths of Eternit workers in four northern Italian locations.  The investigation led to criminal charges against two former Eternit directors and who together hold a majority of the company’s shares: Stefan Schmidheiny (a Swiss national) and Jean-Louis de Cartier (a Belgian national).  The prosecutor charged these individuals with causing an environmental disaster and failing to take appropriate safety measures to mitigate asbestos exposure.

The trial opened on 10 December 2009.  The prosecution claims that as majority shareholders, de Cartier and Schmidheiny were responsible for the management of Eternit’s Italian plants from 1966 to 1972 and from 1976 to 1986 respectively.  The prosecutors charge that the defendants are responsible for the deaths of over 2000 people in northern Italy, including residents, factory workers and their families, who may have been exposed to asbestos fibres trapped in workers’ clothes.  They further allege that Eternit left asbestos fibres on roofs during its projects, and that these fibres became airborne and polluted the air around Casale Monferrato, a suburb of Turin.  Schmidheiny does not deny that the deaths were caused by asbestos exposure.  He maintains that the company did everything in its power to reduce the dangers associated with asbestos exposure to both its workers and the surrounding environment.  Schmidheiny's spokesman claims that he was a majority shareholder of the Swiss Eternit Group, but never owned the Italian factories.  De Cartier declares that he was a non-executive director of Eternit Genoa and was never responsible for operational management, including workplace health and safety.

The trial ended in November 2011.  The prosecutor sought 20 year jail terms for each of the defendants.  On 13 February 2012, the court found the defendants guilty of negligence and sentenced them to 16 years’ imprisonment.  In June 2013 an Italian appeals court increased the sentence against Stephan Schmidheiny to 18 years in prison for causing the death of 3000 people. The court dropped charges against the second defendant, Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier, because he died in May 2013.  On 19 November 2014, the Italian Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision and acquitted Stephan Schmidheiny on the grounds that the statute of limitations had passed. 

In July 2015, an Italian tribunal referred the case to the Constitutional Court to assess if the former CEO,Stephan Schmidheiny, could be tried for voluntary manslaughter.  On 21 July 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that he could not be tried for deaths that have already been subject to other proceedings.

On 29 November 2016, charges against Schmidheiny were changed from manslaughter to involuntary manslaughter.  However, judge ruled that about a hundred cases had reached the statute of limitations and ordered the transfer of the remaining cases to prosecutor's offices in Reggio Emilia, Vercelli and Naples.  A trial for two cases transferred to Naples will begin on 14 June 2017.  On 12 January 2017, Turin prosecutors appealed to the Cassation Court against a judge’s decision to downgrade charges to involuntary manslaughter.

- "Eternit billionaire's asbestos jail term overturned", Swissinfo.ch, 20 Nov 2014
- "Swiss, Belgian sentenced to jail in Italy asbestos trial", Paola Italiano, Reuters, 13 Feb 2012
- "Italy asbestos trial verdict expected in February", AFP, 21 Nov 2011
- “Jail term sought in Italian asbestos trial”, AFP, 5 Jul 2011
- “Asbestos Criminal Trial Starts in Italy”, Mesothelioma Hope Support Help, 4 Jan 2010
- [Italian] [video] “3000 Asbestos Victims”, La Stampa, 10 Dec 2009
- [Italian] “Eternit, il processo del secolo, in totale oltre 2100 parti civili” [“Eternit, the trial of the century, a total of 2,100 victims”], Lorenza Pleuteri, La Repubblica Torino, 10 Dec 2009
- “Mass asbestos negligence trial opens in Italy”, BBC News, 10 Dec 2009
- [Italian] [video] “Eternit, rinviati a Giudizio i due imputati” [“Eternit: News on the indictment of the two accused”], Sky, 23 Jul 2009 
- [Italian] “Torino, parte il processo contro la Eternit” [“Torino: Eternit trial starts”], Corriere della Sera, 6 Apr 2009

- Stephan Schmidheiny - Business Career [Schmidheiny’s personal website]
- [Italian] AFEVA (Asbestos Victims Families Association)
- [Italian] [ PDF] “Convegno internazionale Eternit / Amianto” [“International Conference Eternit / Asbestos”], Bruno Pesce speech, Asbestos Victims Families, 16 Mar 2010
- Coalition vs Asbestos: Asbestos in the Dock: the Eternit trial report

- [Italian] [PDF] Dispositivo della Sentenza, Tribunale di Torino [Court decision], 13 Feb 2012
- [Italian] [PDF] Decreto che Dispone il Giudizio, Tribunale di Torino [Preliminary Hearing decision], 27 Jul 2009
- [Italian] [PDF] Esposto Presentato alla Procura della Repubblica di Torino [Statement sent to the Public Prosecutor Office of Turin], AFEVA, 22 Dec 2004

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Article
19 January 2017

Italy: Prosecutors appeal judge's decision to downgrade charges against ex-Eternit CEO over asbestos exposure deaths

Author: ANSA (Italy)

"Eternit prosecutors appeal", 12 Jan 2017

Turin prosecutors on Thursday appealed to the Italy's highest appeals court, the Cassation Court, against a judge's decision to downgrade charges in the Eternit asbestos-deaths case from voluntary homicide to culpable homicide and...splitting the trial into four branches...The charges against Swiss entrepreneur Stephan Schmidheiny as part of the Eternit asbestos case were changed on November 29...Turin judge ruled that about a hundred of the cases had reached the statute of limitations and ordered that others be transferred to the Reggio Emilia, Vercelli and Naples prosecutor's offices...The lawyer, Sergio Bonetto, noted that the transfer of the cases to three other prosecutors' offices would significantly lengthen the time "before the cause of and responsibility for these deaths can be ascertained".

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Author: Agence Télégraphique Suisse (ats)/nxp

« Le parquet de Turin saisit la Cour de cassation », 12 janvier 2017

Le parquet de Turin et le parquet général du Piémont s'opposent à la décision prise fin novembre de réduire les charges pesant sur Stephan Schmidheiny pour les décès dus à l'amiante en Italie. Ils ont décidé de saisir la Cour de cassation.

La juge turinoise Federica Bompieri avait décidé le 29 novembre de juger l'industriel suisse pour homicide par négligence, et non plus pour homicide volontaire dans l'affaire «Eternit bis»...

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Author: Le Matin (Suisse)

« Eternit bis » : Charges réduites pour Schmidheiny, 29 novembre 2016

L'industriel suisse sera jugé pour homicide par négligence, et non plus pour homicide volontaire...

...[L]a juge turinoise Federica Bompieri a déclaré la prescription pour une centaine de cas et a renvoyé les autres aux parquets régionaux...Stephan Schmidheiny sera jugé à Turin pour deux cas à partir du 14 juin 2017. L'avocat de l'homme d'affaires a salué «une grande victoire»...

...Jusqu'à la faillite du groupe transalpin, survenue en 1986, Stephan Schmidheiny en était le plus grand actionnaire, puis le principal actionnaire...

...Le parquet a accusé les deux entrepreneurs [également Jean-Louis de Cartier] d'avoir causé intentionnellement une catastrophe écologique et d'avoir délibérément omis de prendre des mesures de sécurité dans les usines Eternit italiennes, causant trois mille cas de maladies et de décès, selon lui...

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Article
29 November 2016

Schmidheiny charges changed

Author: ANSA (Italy)

The charges against Swiss entrepreneur Stephan Schmidheiny as part of the Eternit asbestos case were on Tuesday changed from manslaughter to involuntary manslaughter...[A] Turin judge ruled that about a hundred of the cases had reached the statute of limitations and ordered that others be transferred to the Reggio Emilia, Vercelli and Naples prosecutor's offices.  Only two cases remain in Naples, for which a trial will begin on June 14...The lawyer, Sergio Bonetto, noted that the transfer of the cases to three other prosecutors' offices would significantly lengthen the time "before the cause of and responsibility for these deaths can be ascertained".

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Article
2 August 2016

Italy: Ex-Eternit CEO faces manslaughter trial over deaths of 258 workers at asbestos cement plants

Author: Ed Stannard, New Haven Register (USA)

"Yale University honoree faces manslaughter charges in Italy", 28 Jul 2016

A Swiss billionaire who holds a controversial honorary degree from Yale University faces a manslaughter trial in connection with the deaths of 258 workers at asbestos cement plants in Italy...Stephan Ernst Schmidheiny, former owner of the Swiss firm Eternit AG...was convicted in connection with the deaths of 2,000 workers in Casale Monferrato who worked at asbestos factories in the 1970s and 1980s and was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2013.That conviction was overturned in November 2014 by Italy’s highest court, which ruled that the statute of limitations had expired...The first trial was for endangering the lives of the workers and town residents, a different charge than what he is facing now, so there is no double jeopardy, according to Castleman and [Italian news agency] ANSA...

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Author: Agence Télégraphique Suisse (ats)

« Eternit: un second procès lié à l'amiante possible », 21 juillet 2016

La Cour constitutionnelle italienne a rendu son verdict concernant les procédures judiciaires contre Stephan Schmidheiny. L'industriel suisse ne peut pas être traduit en justice pour les morts liés à l'amiante qui ont déjà fait l'objet d'une procédure. Mais il pourrait y avoir un procès pour les cas non encore jugés...

Selon la Cour constitutionnelle, 186 cas sur les 258 morts liés à l'amiante ont déjà été traités au cours de la première procédure judiciaire. Une nouvelle accusation en lien avec ces décès constituerait dès lors une violation de la double incrimination («ne bis in idem»)...

Le parquet de Turin doit désormais décider s'il désire ouvrir un nouveau procès pour les 72 décès qui non pas encore fait l'objet d'une procédure judiciaire. Selon la défense, ces cas tombent toutefois sous le coup de l'interdiction de la double incrimination...

Au contraire, en cas d'arrêt de la procédure, l'Italie violerait le principe d'obligation de la loi pénale et risquerait de se faire condamner à Strasbourg pour refus de protéger les victimes, avait déclaré à la fin du mois de mai l'avocate des victimes...

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Author: Agence Télégraphique Suisse (ats)

« Vers un deuxième procès contre Schmidheiny? », 31 mai 2016

La Cour constitutionnelle italienne doit décider si un deuxième procès contre l'homme d'affaires suisse est conforme à la Constitution. Elle s'est penchée mardi sur les procédures judiciaires contre l'industriel Stephan Schmidheiny .

Les procédures concernent des décès liés à l'amiante dans les régions transalpines qui abritaient des usines de la société Eternit S.p.a Gênes. Le groupe suisse Eternit - dirigé depuis 1976 par M. Schmidheiny - était le plus gros actionnaire, puis l'actionnaire principal de cette société, de 1973 jusqu'à sa faillite en 1986.

... En juin 2013, il avait été condamné en appel à 18 ans de prison pour avoir provoqué volontairement une catastrophe environnementale. La Cour de cassation l'a acquitté en novembre 2014, jugeant les faits prescrits.

Le parquet de Turin et certains des plaignants exigent aujourd'hui un nouveau procès. Dans l'affaire «Eternit bis», Stephan Schmidheiny est accusé d'homicide volontaire et aggravé pour 258 décès suspects liés à l'amiante.

En juillet dernier, la juge turinoise en charge de l'affaire a saisi la Cour constitutionnelle. Elle veut savoir si cette procédure porte sur les mêmes faits que ceux du premier procès qui s'est clos fin 2014. Ce scénario violerait l'interdiction de la double incrimination...

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Author: ats/Newsnet

« Le dossier de Schmidheiny renvoyé à la Cour constitutionnelle », 24 juillet 2015

L'homme d'affaires suisse Stephan Schmidheiny devra encore attendre pour savoir s'il est jugé dans l'affaire «Eternit bis» des morts de l'amiante. Le tribunal de Turin a saisi vendredi 24 juillet la Cour constitutionnelle italienne au sujet de ce dossier. La juge en charge veut savoir si cette procédure porte sur les mêmes faits que le premier procès…En juin 2013, Stephan Schmidheiny avait été condamné en appel à 18 ans de prison pour avoir provoqué volontairement une catastrophe environnementale en lien avec les usines du groupe d'amiante italien Eternit S.p.a. Gênes. La Cour de cassation l'avait acquitté en novembre 2014, jugeant les faits prescrits. Dans le second procès, dans lequel il est la seule personne mise en cause, le milliardaire est accusé d'homicide volontaire et aggravé pour le décès de 258 personnes entre 1989 et 2014 dans les mêmes régions…Les procureurs se préparent à ajouter 94 nouveaux cas de décès liés à l'amiante à l'acte d'accusation…

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Article
27 July 2015

Italy: Effort to retry former Eternit company owner over asbestos poisoning goes to constitutional court

Author: Gazzetta del Sud (Italy)

"Eternit case put to Constitutional Court", 24 Jul 2015

The bitter and long-running Eternit case into the asbestos poisoning deaths of 258 people was referred Friday to Italy's Constitutional Court to rule on whether the former company owner could be tried a second time. In the case's latest twist, a preliminary court judge has asked for a ruling on the constitutionality of a second trial against Swiss tycoon Stephan Schmidheiny...Schmidheiny had been charged with failing to provide adequate safety measures at four Eternit cement plants in Italy, charges he has denied. In 2012, Schmidheiny was found guilty of negligence..., a ruling applauded by families of the victims. However, they were stunned last November when Italy's highest appeals body overturned the 18-year sentence against Schmidheiny, saying the case had timed out.

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Article
24 July 2015

Eternit case to Constitutional Court

Author: Sandra Cordon, ANSA (Italy)

The bitter and long-running Eternit case into the asbestos poisoning deaths of 258 people was referred Friday to Italy's Constitutional Court to rule on whether the former company owner could be tried a second time…A preliminary court judge has asked for a ruling on the constitutionality of a second trial against Swiss tycoon Stephan Schmidheiny…[A] spokesman for some of the families of the victims…said the argument did not stand…"It would be as if citizens were given an exemption for murder,"…In 2012, Schmidheiny was found guilty of negligence…However…Italy's highest appeals body overturned the 18-year sentence against Schmidheiny, saying the case had timed out…Turin prosecutors said Friday they want to add new charges related to 94 other deaths from asbestos poisoning…

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