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Lawsuit against Eternit (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.

Another trial relating to the deaths of two employees of the Eternit factory in Cavagnolo has started. On 29 November 2016, charges against Schmidheiny were changed from manslaughter to involuntary manslaughter. On 12 January 2017, Turin prosecutors appealed to the Cassation Court against a judge’s decision to downgrade charges to involuntary manslaughter. On 23 May 2019, a Turin tribunal sentenced Schmidheiny to four years in prison.

In January 2019, an investigating judge from Naples started a new lawsuit against M. Schmidheiny. The hearing will start in April 2019.  On 23 May 2019, the Turin court  sentenced former CEO, Stephan Schmidheiny to four years in prison in one of the asbestos-related death cases in Italy. He was tried for 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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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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Author: Ats (Agence télégraphique suisse)

« Eternit bientôt face à un nouveau procès? », 12 mai 2015

Le procureur de Turin accuse Stephan Schmidheiny d'homicide volontaire et aggravé pour le décès de 258 personnes dans les régions où se trouvaient des usines d'amiante du groupe Eternit S.p.A. Gênes. Raffaele Guariniello avait demandé à la fin de février le renvoi devant la justice de l'homme d'affaires suisse. Selon la nouvelle plainte, Stephan Schmidheiny, en tant que «véritable responsable» de la société italienne Eternit S.p.A. entre 1976 et 1986, aurait provoqué intentionnellement et en toute connaissance de cause la mort de 258 personnes…[D’après le] Ministère public, le milliardaire suisse n'ignorait rien des dangers de la transformation de l'amiante. Il aurait néanmoins, par pure cupidité, continué à faire fonctionner les usines…et omis d'adopter des mesures efficaces en vue d'améliorer la situation…[L’]'avocat du milliardaire…et sa chargée de communication…qualifient la nouvelle accusation d'absurde…En tant que «pionnier de l'abandon de l'amiante», Stephan Schmidheiny aurait…«par sa gestion responsable des changements industriels, préservé des milliers d'individus des risques liés à ce matériau»…[La décision est attendue en juillet.]

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Author: Le Soir (Belgique)

« Procès Eternit: annulation de la condamnation de l'industriel suisse, Schmidheiny », 19 novembre 2014

La Cour de cassation italienne a annulé mercredi soir la condamnation à 18 ans de prison de Stephan Schmidheiny, un industriel suisse jugé coupable auparavant d’avoir provoqué la mort de près de 3.000 personnes dans ses usines d’amiante en Italie…La plus haute juridiction italienne a considéré que les faits pour lesquels il avait été condamné en première instance en février 2012 à 16 ans, puis en appel en juin 2013 à 18 ans de réclusion, étaient prescrits…M. Schmidheiny, ancien propriétaire d’Eternit Suisse et ancien actionnaire important d’Eternit Italie (de 1976 à 1986), avait été condamné pour « catastrophe sanitaire et environnementale permanente intentionnelle » et infraction aux règles de la sécurité au travail dans les usines de produits à base d’amiante-ciment…

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20 November 2014

Italy: Supreme Court acquits former Eternit owner in lawsuit over deaths re asbestos exposure

Author: Swissinfo.ch

"Eternit billionaire's asbestos jail term overturned", 20 Nov

The Italian Supreme Court…has acquitted Swiss industrialist Stephan Schmidheiny for his part in the deaths of factory workers exposed to asbestos, annulling the judgment of a lower court. The court found that the statute of limitations had passed, this making the case invalid. Wednesday night’s ruling comes more than a year after the Turin Court of Appeals sentenced Schmidheiny to 18 years in prison and fines totalling €90 million (CHF108 million). The Swiss billionaire was a majority shareholder in Eternit Genova, a firm that owned four asbestos factories in Italy. The previous ruling held him responsible for the deaths of almost 3,000 people because he had allowed toxic asbestos dust from the production of roofing materials and pipes to circulate on the factory floor…

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20 February 2014

[PDF] Litigating for asbestos justice - Projection of documentary “Dust: the Great Asbestos Trial” followed by a talk by Mr Vijay Ganapathy (Leigh Day) [London, 5 Mar]

Author: Law, Environment and Development Centre, School of Oriental and African Studies

With the increasing use of asbestos in China, Russia...asbestos production has grown apace, so that 70% of the world population is now exposed to this carcinogenic material. Starting from the first court hearings in Turin involving the multinational Eternit, which now faces claims of having caused the death of nearly 30,000 former plant workers and among the local populace at Casale Monferrato, the film [“Dust: The Great Asbestos Trial”] takes us to India and Brazil on an exploration into a multi-million dollar business managed by a lobby that holds sway over the policies of many countries...

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Author: Journal de l'environnement (France)

[L]es victimes de l’amiante arrachent devant les juridictions civiles et prud’homales la reconnaissance et l’indemnisation de leur exposition à l’amiante…Mais aucune juridiction pénale française ne s’est jamais penchée sur les responsabilités des plus hauts dirigeants…qui ont laissé prospérer, en dépit des alertes sanitaires lancées dès les années 1950, cette fibre minérale qui lacère les poumons des personnes exposées…[E]n juin dernier, la cour d’appel de Turin condamnait à 18 années de prison…Stephan Schmidheiny, ex-actionnaire d’Eternit Italie, jugé responsable de «catastrophe sanitaire et environnementale permanente» et d’infraction aux règles de la sécurité au travail dans les usines italiennes…dont il assurait la direction…[L]e procureur de la République de Paris…estime que l'instruction judiciaire qui vise des dirigeants de premier ordre de l’entreprise Eternit France…sera close «au cours du premier semestre 2014». Un procès pourrait se tenir début 2015 devant un tribunal correctionnel…[Fait aussi référence à Amisol]

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3 June 2013

Sentence upped for Swiss tycoon in asbestos trial [Italy]

Author: AFP

An Italian appeals court on Monday increased a sentence in absentia against Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny to 18 years in prison for causing the death of 3,000 people in a landmark asbestos case that is the biggest of its kind…Campaigners immediately hailed the verdict as an important precedent for other legal action over asbestos-related deaths. The tycoon is the former owner of an Italian plant making Eternit construction material using asbestos and was sued by former employees…The appeals court said he was responsible for "a permanent health and environment catastrophe" and had violated work safety rules at his facilities…

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Author: Le Vif [Belgique]

Le parquet de Turin a requis mercredi 20 ans de prison contre…Stephan Schmidheiny et…Louis de Cartier lors du procès en appel Eternit, des victimes de l'amiante. Les deux hommes sont accusés d'être responsables du décès de milliers de personnes en Italie…"Nous ne sommes pas en présence d'événements sporadiques, mais de carences structurelles, dues à des choix généraux et des politiques d'entreprise décidées au niveau mondial" [selon le Procureur]. Lors du procès en première instance…[l]es accusés avaient finalement été condamnés, en février 2012, à 16 ans de prison pour "catastrophe environnementale intentionnelle" et "omission volontaire des mesures anticatastrophe" dans deux des quatre usines transalpines du groupe…

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Author: Tribune de Genève

La Cour européenne des droits de l’homme a accepté la plainte d’une victime de l’amiante de la Fabrique Suisse de Machines-Outils Oerlikon, actuellement Alstom...Outre Alstom, la plainte est aussi dirigée contre la Suva, tous deux ayant, selon la victime, manqué à leur devoir de surveillance...En contact avec de la poussière d’amiante de 1966 à 1978 à son poste de travail, l’homme est décédé en 2005 d’un cancer de la plèvre. Ses filles ont repris depuis lors la plainte contre son employeur. Cette dernière a été rejetée par la justice argovienne ainsi que par le Tribunal fédéral au motif que les demandes en réparation expirent en Suisse dix ans après le dommage.

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13 February 2012

Swiss, Belgian sentenced to jail in Italy asbestos trial [Italy]

Author: Paola Italiano, Reuters

An Italian court…sentenced a Swiss tycoon and a Belgian baron to 16 years in jail for negligence that led to more than 2,000 asbestos-related deaths in the biggest trial of its kind...[The defendants] were accused of intentionally omitting to put in place measures to prevent asbestos damage at Swiss firm Eternit's Italian plants. The defendants, who were not in court, were charged for their role as executives at Eternit's Italian affiliate Eternit SpA. Their lawyers have said they bear no responsibility in the case. The company closed its Italian operations in 1986.

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