Surprise Moves by Schmidheiny's Lawyers
Within days of the final hearing in Italy's Great Asbestos Trial, (November 21, 2011) news began circulating that lawyers for Stephan Schmidheiny, one of the two former Eternit executives on trial, were engaged in secret negotiations with a dozen municipalities involved in the proceedings.1 Even as the three-judge panel is deliberating the judgment, with an announcement expected on February 13, up to 22 million euros has been offered to secure the withdrawal of civic authorities from this case. It is understood that lawyers for the Swiss billionaire have offered the town of Casale Monferrato up to €20 million to settle their claim. The Casale town council is, one informant said refusing to show victims and unions the draft of the (proposed) agreement. Understandably there is great consternation amongst the victims groups, labor federations and trade unions backing the legal action brought as a result of the thousands of asbestos-related deaths caused by exposure to Eternit asbestos.2 Other deals are also being pursued by Schmidheiny's legal team with eleven smaller municipalities, each of which is being offered €160,000.
To receive the Schmidheiny payout, a civic authority must agree to withdraw from this and any future trials (against Eternit) that it might be involved in. A similar bargain made by Schmidheiny with the Mayor and town council of Cavagnolo this summer netted the town €2 million for asbestos decontamination. The payment was part of a tombstone agreement, whereby the town agreed that it would bring no further claims against Schmidheiny even if new evidence came to light. The €4 million claim lodged by Cavagnolo against Baron Jean Louis Marie Ghislain De Cartier de Marchienne, the other defendant in the trial, remained unaffected by the agreement with Schmidheiny.
The timing of these offers is not coincidental. The Cavagnolo deal was announced as the lead prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello was making his closing statement to the Court in July; the later offers came just days after the proceedings in Turin drew to a close. It is well known that politicians the world over have a very short memory when it comes to the promises they make and the statements they issue. Nevertheless, it was only a few months ago that the Mayor of Casale Monferrato, commenting on the Cavagnolo deal, said: It is clear that a proposal such as that could never be even considered by a city like Casale. Will he remember this statement when faced with Schmidheiny's multimillion euro offer? Only time will tell.
November 27, 2011
1 See: Eternit on Trial