Milan, Italy – A billionaire industrialist from Switzerland, who had been convicted for his role in the biggest asbestos scandal in Italy, had his sentence extended on Monday to 18 years. Campaigners said the ruling will set the precedent for lawsuits over safety at workplace.
Stephan Schmidheiny had been proved negligent in causing 2000 or more asbestos-linked deaths. In addition to imprisonment, the appeals court, located in Turin, asked Schmidheiny to pay a huge amount in compensation to local victims, their families, and the authorities.
The previous owner of Switzerland-based construction material manufacturer Eternit was proved guilty in 2012 February. He was originally sentenced to imprisonment for 16 years and asked to pay the other damages.
Schmidheiny was not sent immediately to jail as, in Italy, prison sentences are not generally enforced as long as the appeals processes are not exhausted. This could usually take several years. Schmidheiny is 65 years old. He was not present in the court when the jury rejected the appeal filed him against the sentence. Instead, it extended the prison time on Monday.
The court also dismissed the charges against the shareholder and ex-executive of the company Jean L Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne as he passed away on 21st May when he was 91 years old.
The victims’ relatives and numerous others were present in the courthouse to hear the ruling. Some of them had banners in their hands saying “Eternit: Justice!”
Osservatorio N Amianto, the association of the victims, expressed happiness in the ruling. The association said the verdict would encourage the fight by asbestos victims and families to live in a world that does not have asbestos and the greed for profits which sacrifices human lives.
Prosecutors argued that Schmidheiny purposefully failed in installing the measures to protect the health of workers and to prevent them from being exposed to deadly asbestos fibers at the Italian plants of Eternit. Eternit was closed in year 1986.
More than 6000 individuals – including former plant employees and the residents of 4 towns where the factories were situated – are asking for damages in this case. The compensation includes 20 m euros to the Piedmont area and 31 m euros to Casale Monferrato town hall where the company had its major Italian plant.
Schmidheiny’s spokesman said they are going to take the case to the top appeals court in Italy. He said the present ruling is absurd and scandalous.