Italian Asbestos Verdict Due on Friday!
Updated July 24, 2015 (see end of article)
On Friday, July 24, 2015, Judge Federica Bompieri will hand down a momentous decision in a court in Turin, Italy. She will decide whether to comply with a request from the Turin Public Prosecutors Raffaele Guariniello and Gianfranco Colace for a new criminal trial against asbestos billionaire Stephen Schmidheiny. The Italian Supreme Court (Court of Cassation) vacated a guilty verdict and an 18-year prison sentence for Schmidheiny in November 2014 on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired. He had been charged with causing a permanent environmental disaster as a result of which 3,000+ people died from asbestos-related diseases due to the hazardous operations of the Schmidheiny familys Eternit asbestos conglomerate.1 The uproar caused by the Courts decision reverberated around the world and the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi vowed to change Italys nightmare statute of limitation rules saying: If an episode like Eternit is not a crime or if it is a crime and subject to prescription then we have to change the rules of the game.
The subject of Bompieris considerations is whether or not a new case for the manslaughter of 258 people can be brought against the same defendant. All of the objections against this case proceeding mounted by the defendants legal team have been dismissed except for those relating to the issue of double jeopardy. The defences request to have the trial moved to a different locale has also been refused.
AFEVA, an asbestos victims support group backing the trial, is optimistic that the green light will be given on Friday. In an AFEVA press release issued at the beginning of the preliminary hearings in May 2015, it was noted that:
at the Rome meetings following the shameful verdict of the Court of Cassation, Prime Minister Renzi promised the government would also join the case as a party and seek damages and redress. We have been asking the State to play an active role and to coordinate all the parties (parties civiles) so as to take all the possible actions and have justice, first and foremost for the victims, and obtain damages both in the civil and criminal courts. The fight goes on to obtain justice while the incredible disaster continues.2
The Prime Ministers promise made last November that the Italian Government will take a role in this case has been honoured.
In an interview on July 20, 2015, AFEVAs spokesman Bruno Pesce said:
We are confident that Judge Bompieri will accept the request of the Public Prosecutors, also because the Court of Cassation did not absolve Stephen Schmidheiny but only applied the statute of limitation. We were shocked when we heard the verdict in Rome and for this reason we hope that a new trial will revert that injustice. We want to thank the international movement against asbestos which is supporting us with its participation and solidarity and is fighting for a world free of asbestos. We wont give up, we will keep on with the struggle of our multinational, the multinational of victims. Our aims remain: Justice, Decontamination and Medical Research.
July 20, 2015
Update July 24, 2015:
This morning, Judge Federica Bompieri informed the Turin court that she had suspended her decision regarding the charges against defendant Stephan Schmidheiny pending a ruling by Italy’s Constitutional Court on the issue of “double jeopardy.” Placing the matter in the hands of the higher court, the preliminary hearing judge cited article 649 of the criminal proceeding code which differentiates between “historical” and “juridical” facts. It is believed that it could take up to eight months for the Constitutional Court to give its ruling by which time the lead Public Prosecutor in this and other landmark asbestos cases in Italy Raffaele Guariniello will have retired.
A press release issued today by groups representing the Italian asbestos victims, expressed disappointment with the Judge’s decision and pointed out that while the charge in this case was manslaughter, in earlier criminal proceedings the defendant had been accused and found guilty of environmental crimes. Should the Constitutional Court greenlight the new trial, the prosecutors will add the names of 94 additional asbestos victims to the original 258 on whose behalf this case was brought.
1 Kazan-Allen L. Postscript to The Great Asbestos Trial. January 14, 2015.
2 AFEVA Press Release. The Eternit bis trial begins on 12 May. May 2015.