Italian Asbestos Deaths: New Conviction 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Five years after the Italian Supreme Court had vacated guilty verdicts against the Swiss asbestos billionaire Stephen Schmidheiny on technical grounds (2014), the defendant has once again been convicted of the asbestos deaths of Italian citizens.1 Shortly after mid-day on May 23, 2019, a Turin Court sentenced 71-year old Schmidheiny, the former majority shareholder in the Italian Eternit asbestos company, in absentia to four years for the involuntary manslaughter of two individuals from Cavagnolo, both of whom died from asbestos-related diseases; one of the deceased was a former Eternit employee who succumbed to asbestosis while the other was a woman who lived in the area near the company’s Cavagnolo factory and died from lung cancer.2 Public Prosecutor Prosecutor Gianfranco Colace had sought a seven year prison sentence, the maximum allowable.

Judge Cristiano Trevisan ordered Schmidheiny to pay all the court costs, the costs of the plaintiffs’ lawyers and provisional damages of €15,000 to various groups, including the Piedmont region, trade unions and civil society associations. The Judge gave the victims’ relatives and civil parties leave to apply for damages in the civil courts. Schmidheiny was also banned from taking up any public position for three years.3


Commenting on the verdict, the President of the Association of Asbestos Victims and Family Members of Casale Monferrato (AFeVA) Giuliana Busto – who was in the Court with a delegation of AFeVA members – said: “It is a beginning, even if the road is still long.” Prosecutor Gianfranco Colace regarded the conviction as a “first step,” saying that he hoped “this decision will mark the return of judgments that are more attentive to victims.” Categorizing the judgment as “scandalous,” the defendant’s lawyers said they would appeal. Former Swiss employees of the billionaire businessman said he was “the scapegoat of the Italian state's inertia,” which “for decades failed to regulate the treatment and use of asbestos.”

Other trials are proceeding against Schmidheiny who is facing charges of voluntary homicide in hundreds of cases in Naples (8 deaths) and Vercelli (392 deaths including those of 243 individuals who worked at the Eternit factory in Casale Monferrato).4

May 24, 2019


1 Kazan-Allen, L. Italy’s Hope and Glory. August 3, 2016.
Also see: Eternit and the Great Asbestos Trial. 2012.

2 Asbest-Prozess: Vier Jahre Haft fr Stephan Schmidheiny [Asbestos trial: four years imprisonment for Stephan Schmidheiny]. May 23, 2019.

3 Eternit asbestos billionaire sentenced to prison by Turin court. May 23, 2019.

4 Eternit Bis: due morti per amianto, Stephan Schmidheiny condannato a 4 anni [Eternit Encore: for two asbestos deaths, Stephan Schmidheiny sentenced to 4 years].
Also see: Eternit, l'imprenditore Schmidheiny condannato a quattro anni di carcere per omicidio colposo [Eternit, the entrepreneur Schmidheiny sentenced to four years in prison for manslaughter].



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