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Trafigura lawsuits (re Côte d’Ivoire)

Toxic Waste, By:Fernost, Creative Commons Pour la version française de ce profil, cliquez ici.

On 19 August 2006 the ship Probo Koala unloaded a waste shipment at Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  This waste was disposed of at open air sites around Abidjan.  The ship was chartered by the London office of Trafigura, a Dutch international petroleum trader.  The Probo Koala had attempted to discharge this waste at the port of Amsterdam, but the port service would not accept the waste without an additional handling charge because of the waste’s alleged toxicity.  The ship left the port of Amsterdam without discharging its waste.  After the waste from the ship was discharged in Abidjan, people living near the discharge sites began to suffer from a range of illnesses (nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, breathlessness, headaches, skin damage, and swollen stomachs).  Sixteen people have died, allegedly from exposure to this waste, and more than 100,000 have sought medical attention.

Trafigura sent two of its executives to Abidjan in August 2006 to investigate what happened.  These executives and a representative from a Trafigura subsidiary, Puma Energy, were arrested by Ivorian authorities and imprisoned.  On 12 February 2007 the Government of Côte d’Ivoire signed a settlement agreement with Trafigura in which the company agreed to pay $198 million to the Ivorian government for a compensation fund, the construction of a waste treatment plant and to assist in the recovery operations.  However, the company stressed this payment was not "damages" and that it did not admit liability.  Côte d’Ivoire agreed to drop any prosecutions or claims, now or in the future, against Trafigura.  After this settlement agreement was made, the Trafigura executives and the Puma Energy representative were released from prison.

Claims in the United Kingdom

Probo Koala shipIn November 2006, the High Court of Justice in London agreed to hear a group action by about 30,000 claimants from Côte d’Ivoire against Trafigura over the alleged dumping of toxic waste from the Probo Koala.  Applicants alleged that the waste had high levels of caustic soda, as well as a sulphur compound and hydrogen sulphide making it hazardous waste as defined by the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes.  

Trafigura denied the waste was toxic and claimed the waste was standard waste from onboard operations of ships (“slops” as defined by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships).  Trafigura was alleged to have shipped the untreated chemical waste to Côte d’Ivoire with knowledge that there were no facilities to treat it.  Trafigura denied responsibility, stating that they had entrusted the waste to an Ivorian disposal company, Tommy, which was established a few weeks before the ship’s arrival.  Trafigura claimed it had no grounds for suspecting that Tommy would improperly dispose of the waste.  Trafigura denied the number of applicants/victims and stated that only 69 people suffered significant injury.  On 23 March 2009, the court granted the plaintiffs a temporary injunction barring Trafigura from contacting any of the claimants in the case.  This injunction came after counsel for the claimants presented evidence that the company had been contacting individual claimants urging them to change their sworn statements.  

In September 2009, the parties to the UK lawsuit reached a settlement agreement in which Trafigura agreed to pay each of the 30,000 claimants a certain amount, approximately $1500.  The parties released a joint statement that said, among other things, "independent experts are unable to identify a link between exposure to the chemicals released from the slops and deaths, miscarriages, still births, birth defects, loss of visual acuity or other serious and chronic injuries. Leigh Day and Co, in the light of the expert evidence, now acknowledge that the slops could at worst have caused a range of short term low level flu like symptoms and anxiety".

In October 2009 an individual, Claude Gohourou, came forward claiming to represent the victims through his organization - National Coordination of Toxic Waste Victims of Côte d’Ivoire.  Mr Gohourou succeeded in freezing the bank account in which the settlement funds were being held.  The claimants' lawyers dispute the authenticity of this organization and Mr Gohourou's authority to distribute the funds to the claimants.  On 22 January 2010, the Court of Appeals in Abidjan ruled in favour of Mr Gohourou and his organization and ordered the settlement funds be transferred to him.  In mid-February 2010 the parties reached an agreement about the distribution of the settlement funds.  However, 6000 of the victims still have not received the compensation.

In June 2016, the High Court ruled that Leigh Day, the law firm representing the victims, should compensat the victims that had not received compensation due to the breach of its its duty of care.  Leigh day declared: "...were devastated when some of the monies were misappropriated. We did our damnedest to recover the monies resulting in the great majority of our clients having received their compensation."

Claims in the Netherlands

In February 2008, Dutch prosecutors served notice that they intend to file criminal charges against Trafigura, among others, for its alleged part in the disposal of waste in Côte d’Ivoire.  In June 2008 an Amsterdam court began hearing evidence in this case.  The Dutch trial started in June 2010.  

The Dutch prosecutors accused Trafigura of illegally exporting hazardous waste to Côte d’Ivoire.  The allegations against the company are that it breached Dutch export and environmental laws as well as forging official documents.  Trafigura rejected these charges.  In July 2010 the Dutch court ruled that the company had concealed the dangerous nature of the waste aboard the Probo Koala and fined the company €1 million.  The Dutch court also convicted a Trafigura employee and the Ukrainian captain of the Probo Koala for their roles in the matter. 

In the meantime, Greenpeace filed a complaint with the Court of Appeal in The Hague trying to compel the public prosecutor to prosecute the company for more than just the export of hazardous waste.  In April 2011, the appeal court ruled that the public prosecution department is not required to prosecute Trafigura for the dumping of the waste in Côte d’Ivoire. 

When the regional court in Amsterdam decided in 2008 not to prosecute Trafigura's co-founder and director Claude Dauphin, the prosecutors appealed the court's decision.  They were turned down and later lodged another appeal before the Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the appeals court in Amsterdam to review the original decision.  In January 2012, the court decided that Claude Dauphin can be prosecuted for the alleged illegal export of waste by Trafigura.  In November 2012 the Dutch Public Prosecutor's Office and Trafigura reached an out-of-court settlement.  Trafigura agreed to pay €300,000 compensation and paid a €67,000 fine in return for the withdrawal of the case against Claude Dauphin.

In February 2015, lawyers representing 110,937 Ivorians sent a summons to Trafigura in respect of a new lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that Trafigura caused " bodily, moral and economic injury...to the plaintiffs," and requests that Trafigura pay each claimant 2,500 euros in compensation, as well as cleaning up the waste.  In November 2016, a Dutch court rejected the claim by a foundation representing them, finding that the foundation did not establish that the claim was in the best interests of the affected Ivorians.

Claims in France

In July 2008, three French victims of the Probo Koala incident filed a complaint against Trafigura before an examining magistrate in Paris alleging corruption, involuntary homicide and physical harm leading to death.  

- Court finds Leigh Day breached duty of care to Trafigura claimant, John Hyde, Law Society Gazette (UK)
- "100,000 victims of Ivory Coast toxic spill launch Dutch suit", Yahoo News, 20 Feb 2015
- "Dutch Probo Koala toxic waste cases finally settled out of court", DutchNews.nl, 16 Nov 2012
- "Trafigura lessons have not been learned, report warns", Fiona Harvey, Guardian [UK], 25 Sep 2012
- "Trafigura director can be prosecuted says Dutch court", Expatica, 30 Jan 2012
- "Trafigura fined €1m for exporting toxic waste to Africa", Rob Evans, Guardian [UK], 23 Jul 2010
- "Fear over Ivory Coast ruling on Trafigura waste pay-out", BBC News, 22 Jan 2010
- "Trader Trafigura settles Ivorian waste case", Loucoumane Coulibaly & Reed Stevenson, Reuters, 20 Sep 2009
- "Oil company accused of 'nobbling' witnesses in African toxic waste case", Frances Gibb, Times [UK], 24 Mar 2009
- "Ivory Coast turns to UK in class action over toxic waste", Times [UK], 4 Jun 2008
- "Update: Trafigura To Pay Ivory Coast EUR7.6M Over Toxic Waste", Lananh Nguyen, Dow Jones Newswires, 17 Apr 2008
- "Dutch plan to charge Trafigura over toxic ship", Reuters, 19 Feb 2008
- "Côte d'Ivoire toxic waste probe goes to France", afrol News [Lesotho], 26 Jul 2007
- "Toxic waste deal won't halt case", BBC News, 15 Feb 2007
- [FR] "Déchets toxiques : Trafigura dédommage la Cote d’Ivoire mais nie toute responsabilité", Véronique Smée, Novethic, 14 Feb 2007
- "UK action over 'toxic waste' case", BBC News, 2 Feb 2007
- "Neglect and Fraud Blamed for Toxic Dumping in Ivory Coast", Lydia Polgreen, New York Times, 24 Nov 2006
- "Global Sludge Ends in Tragedy for Ivory Coast", Lydia Polgreen & Marlise Simons, New York Times, 2 Oct 2006

- Trafigura : Probo Koala updates
- Trafigura: Amnesty International Report, 27 Sep 2012
- [PDF] Trafigura & Leigh Day: Agreed Final Joint Statement, 19 Sep 2009
- Leigh Day [counsel for plaintiffs]: International Claims - Ivory Coast 
- Leigh Day: Victims of toxic waste in despair at court ruling, 22 Jan 2010
- Amnesty International & Greenpeace: [PDF] The Toxic Truth, 25 Sep 2012
- Sherpa: [PDF] Probo Koala: A catastrophe emblématique, justice exemplaire, 9 Jul 2008
- [FR] Commission internationale d’enquête sur les déchets toxiques dans le District d’Abidjan [établie par le Gouvernement de Côte d’Ivoire] : [DOC] Rapport de la commission internationale d'enquete sur les dechets toxiques deverses dans le district d'Abidjan, 19 Feb 2007

- [FR] Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH): Affaire des déchets toxiques : une transaction au détriment de la justice et de la réparation pour les victimes, 16 Feb 2007
- Greenpeace International: Toxic Waste in Abidjan : Greenpeace Evaluation, 15 Sep 2006

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13 April 2011

Trafigura will not face prosecution for Ivory Coast dumping

Author: DutchNews.nl

The public prosecution department does not have to prosecute oil trader Trafigura for dumping toxic waste in Ivory Coast in 2006, the appeal court in The Hague ruled...The department had earlier decided not to take the company to court for dumping, but environmental group Greenpeace took legal action to try to force a prosecution...Trafigura says it handed the waste over to a local disposal company in good faith and that that firm is to blame for the dumping. The company also denies the waste was damaging to health. Greenpeace said in a statement the decision means Trafigura will not have to take responsibility for endangering 'man and the environment in Africa.'

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Author: Greenpeace

[Trafigura est poursuivie par la justice des Pays-Bas pour corruption.] Trafigura est en effet soupçonnée d’avoir payé des pots de vin à un homme politique…en Jamaïque... En quoi cela nous concerne ? En 2010,…Trafigura…a été condamnée pour avoir exporté de façon illégale des déchets toxiques depuis le port d’Amsterdam jusqu’en Côte d’Ivoire…Mais la compagnie n’a pas été poursuivie pour le rejet de ces déchets…[p]arce que le ministère public néerlandais considère que la recherche de la vérité en Côte d’Ivoire est trop difficile et qu’il n’a pas compétence pour poursuivre Trafigura pour un crime commis en Afrique…On voit bien qu’en la matière [de corruption], le ministère public néerlandais poursuit l’entreprise sans avoir a priori de problème de compétence ! Pour Greenpeace, corrompre un homme politique…mérite une procédure pénale. Mais le fait d’avoir…déversé des déchets toxiques, mettant en danger la santé des habitants d’Abidjan…, mérite le même traitement ! Greenpeace a donc lancé hier une procédure de recours au Pays-Bas. La Cour d’appel de La Haye doit décider d’ici deux mois si des poursuites seront finalement être engagées ou non.

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19 January 2011

Leigh Day's Annual Review

Author: Leigh Day & Co.

At Leigh Day, we have had a very interesting and rewarding past 12 months from representing injured clients in the Battersea Crane Crash to miners in South Africa, fighting for equal pay for women against Birmingham City Council, and engaging in legal challenges to government on human rights violations from Yarl’s Wood to Guantanamo Bay. Our annual review newspaper...reports on these and many of our other cases. [refers to Anglo American, BP, Monterrico Metals (part of Zijin), Trafigura, DePuy International, Total, Chevron, Motherwell Control Systems, TAV Engineering, Cape plc, Shell, Erinys, BAE, Serco]

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21 October 2010

[PDF] Côte d'Ivoire: Thousands still waiting to receive compensation over toxic waste dumping

Author: Amnesty International

More than one year after reaching an out-of-court settlement with the oil-trading company Trafigura over waste dumping in Côte d’Ivoire, thousands of victims are still waiting to receive their compensation money…In late 2009 a group calling itself the National Coordination of Toxic Waste Victims of Côte d’Ivoire (CNVDT-CI) claimed to represent the 30,000 people who had reached the out-of-court settlement in the UK with Trafigura. All of the claimants in the case were actually represented by a UK law firm…By July 2010, an estimated 23,000 people had received their compensation, but shortly thereafter the process was halted for reasons that are not clear. In September 2010 CNVDT-CI began a new distribution process. However, recent reports suggest that the process has once again ground to a halt…

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7 August 2010

Dutch Prosecution Appeals Trafigura Ruling, Says $1.3 Million Fine Too Low

Author: Jeroen Molenaar, Bloomberg

The Dutch public prosecutor’s service appealed a ruling by an Amsterdam district court against Trafigura Beheer BV for shipping harmful waste to Ivory Coast, saying the fine of 1 million euros ($1.3 million) was too low. The prosecution can also prove that the closely held commodities trader committed fraud, Esther Schreur, spokeswoman for the Dutch National Fraud Prosecutor said…“We vigorously deny all charges,” including fraud, said Margaret van Kempen, an outside spokeswoman for Trafigura. Trafigura has also appealed the ruling, she said.

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Author: De Nicolas Delaunay, Agence France Presse (AFP)

La multinationale Trafigura a été condamnée à une amende d'un million d'euros vendredi dans le procès sur l'escale en juillet 2006 aux Pays-Bas du cargo Probo Koala, dont la cargaison de déchets toxiques avait été épandue plus tard en Côte d'Ivoire. Le tribunal d'Amsterdam "condamne Trafigura à une amende d'un montant de 1.000.000 euros" pour infraction à la législation européenne sur l'importation et l'exportation de déchets et pour avoir caché "la nature" des déchets transportés, a déclaré le président..."C'est le début de la justice", a déclaré à l'AFP Marietta Harjono, une porte-parole de l'association écologiste Greenpeace présente lors du jugement. "La prochaine étape logique est que Trafigura soit poursuivi pour le déversement en Côte d'Ivoire", a-t-elle ajouté.

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23 July 2010

Trafigura fined €1m for illegally exporting hazardous waste to Africa

Author: Guardian [UK]

A Dutch court has fined the oil trading company Trafigura €1m (£840,000) for illegally exporting hazardous waste to west Africa. The court in Amsterdam declared the export to Ivory Coast was against the law, and also found Trafigura guilty of concealing the dangerous nature of the waste…The Amsterdam district court judge Frans Bauduin also convicted a Trafigura employee for his role in the 2006 scandal, and the Ukranian captain of the Probo Koala ship that carried the waste…Trafigura's lawyer Aldo Verbruggen said the charges were based on an unfounded moral judgment. He said: "Trafigura is a company that takes responsible entrepreneurship very seriously..."

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Author: Agence France Presse (AFP)

Un directeur français de la multinationale Trafigura, Claude Dauphin, peut encore être poursuivi dans le cadre du déversement des déchets toxiques du cargo Probo Koala en Côte d'Ivoire en 2006, a annoncé mardi à La Haye la Cour de cassation néerlandaise. "La cour d'appel d'Amsterdam doit de nouveau décider si le directeur de Trafigura peut être poursuivi pour le transport de déchets par le Probo Koala", a annoncé dans un communiqué la Cour de cassation, annulant ainsi un arrêt rendu par la cour d'appel d'Amsterdam en décembre 2008. Claude Dauphin, un des fondateurs en 1993 de la multinationale spécialisée dans le transport de matières premières et l'un de ses actuels directeurs, avait été mis hors de cause en juin 2008 par le tribunal d'Amsterdam pour exportation illégale de déchets vers un pays africain. L'appel que le parquet avait ensuite interjeté avait été rejeté par la cour d'appel.

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6 July 2010

Trafigura CEO Prosecution Ruling Must Be Reviewed, Dutch Court Says

Author: Jurjen van de Pol, Bloomberg

A Dutch court must re-examine whether Trafigura Beheer BV Chief Executive Officer Claude Dauphin should be prosecuted over the export of waste to Ivory Coast in 2006. The Dutch Supreme Court said the Amsterdam Appeals Court has to review its 2008 ruling, which barred the prosecution of Dauphin, citing insufficient evidence…“While disappointing, the decision provides Trafigura with the opportunity to put across, in full, our consistently held position that Mr. Dauphin simply has no case to answer,” the…commodity trading company said in an e-mailed statement today… Trafigura is on trial before an Amsterdam court for allegedly concealing the waste’s composition…and for illegally exporting it to the Ivory Coast after it was rejected.

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25 June 2010

I Coast 'toxic deaths a myth'

Author: AFP

Lawyers for a firm charged with dumping possibly deadly waste in the Ivory Coast in 2006 argued on Thursday that the case against it was based on a "myth", spread by greens, politicians and the media. The Ivorian government says 17 people died after caustic soda and petroleum residues were shipped away from the Port of Amsterdam and redirected to Abidjan, where they were dumped on city waste tips. Multinational Trafigura, whose chartered ship…dumped the waste in Ivory Coast, is charged with breaking Dutch environment and waste export laws and faces a €2m fine at its trial in the Netherlands. The company…denies any link between the waste and casualties.

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