Photo: AP/Massimo Pinca
A Swiss billionaire and a Belgian baron were found guilty of over 3,000 alleged asbestos-related deaths and sentenced to 16 years each in prison by an Italian court on Monday, AFP reports.Stephan Schmidheiny, the former owner of a company making Eternit fibre cement, and Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, a major shareholder, were sentenced in absentia on Monday by a court in Turin on charges of causing an environmental disaster and wilful omission of safety precautions, according to Italian news agency AGI.it.
They were also ordered to pay damages to individual victims’ families, as well as to the regions their industrial plants were located in. The payout adds up to tens of millions of euros.
Their crimes usually carry a maximum 12-year sentence, but prosecutors had sought a harsher punishment because they say the fallout continues to affect victims. Schmidheiny is 64, and de Cartier is 90. Their lawyers say they plan to appeal the verdict, Reuters reports.
The verdict was watched by 1,500 victims, relatives, and supporters, who had to be accommodated in three courtrooms that live streamed the proceedings.
The trial, which began in 2009 after a five-year investigation, is the biggest of its kind against a multinational company for asbestos-related deaths.
The inhalation of asbestos fib res can cause lung inflammation and cancer, and symptoms can take up to 20 years to show.
Prosecutors argued that thousands had died from contact with asbestos fibres processed in the firm’s plants, the BBC said.
Eternit went bankrupt six years before asbestos was banned in Italy in 1992.
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