Trafigura accused over Ivory Coast toxic waste

Lawyers for Trafigura in court in Amsterdam, 1 June 2010 It is the first time that Trafigura has gone on trial over the incident

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Dutch prosecutors have accused multi-national oil trading firm Trafigura of illegally exporting hazardous waste to Ivory Coast in 2006.

The allegations came at the start of a trial in which the firm is accused of breaking Dutch export and environmental laws and forging official documents.

Tens of thousands of people in Ivory Coast said the waste made them ill.

Trafigura rejects the charges. It denies the waste was dangerous, or that it knew the chemicals would be dumped.

Among those standing trial is an employee of Trafigura and the Ukrainian captain of the Probo Koala, the ship that exported the waste from the Netherlands.

Neither were present as the trial opened in Amsterdam on Tuesday.

The city of Amsterdam and Amsterdam Port Services (APS), are charged with not preventing the export of dangerous waste.

'Cheap but risky'

The waste was pumped back onto the Probo Koala after APS said it was more toxic than initially thought and asked for a higher price to dispose of it.

Trafigura, a multi-national oil trading company, eventually hired a local Ivorian firm to do the disposal. The chemicals were dumped in various sites around Abidjan, Ivory Coast's biggest city.

Start Quote

The waste is thrown over the fence, dumped in a third world country”

End Quote Luuk Boogert Prosecutor

The head of the local contractor was sentenced to 20 years in prison in a trial in Ivory Coast in 2008.

Shortly after, tens of thousands of people complained of becoming ill. A UN report last year suggested a strong link between at least 15 deaths and toxic waste dumps.

"The waste is thrown over the fence, dumped in a third world country," public prosecutor Luuk Boogert said at the trial on Tuesday.

"Cheap but with big risks for public health and the environment. The company saves 400,000 euros ($491,000, £334,000)."

A lawyer for Trafigura, Aldo Verbruggen, responded that the charges were based on an "unfounded moral judgment".

"Trafigura is a company that takes responsible entrepreneurship very seriously," he said.

Trafigura faces a fine of up to 1.34m euros in the case.

In an out-of-court settlement in September, Trafigura agreed to pay $45m to some 30,000 people who said they were affected by the waste.

In return, the claimants agreed in the light of expert evidence that the waste could not have caused anything worse than mild flu-like symptoms.

The company has always rejected reports that the waste had caused deaths or serious injuries.

The Trafigura payout was in addition to nearly $200m that the company paid the Ivorian government in 2007.

The Dutch trial is expected to last about five weeks.

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