Turin

Billionaire's jail term for asbestos deaths upped to 18 yrs

Swiss businessman Schmidheiny's conviction upheld

Billionaire's jail term for asbestos deaths upped to 18 yrs

Turin, June 3 - A Swiss billionaire's conviction for asbestos-linked tumours among the Italian workforce of cement company Eternit was upheld by a Turin appeals court on Monday and extended from 16 to 18 years. Stephan Schmidheiny was found guilty of failing to ensure adequate safety measures at two asbestos-cement plants the now-defunct Eternit ran in Italy up to the 1980s in the first trial in February 2012, one of the world's largest ever into asbestos-related deaths and illnesses. At the original trial Schmidheiny was convicted along with former Eternit managing director and Belgian executive Baron Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, who has since died. Prosecutors said that around 2,100 people have died from asbestos-linked tumours among Eternit staff, their families and people living near the factories affected by asbestos dust in the air, while hundreds more are ill. Schmidheiny was found guilty for the conditions at the plants Eternit ran in Casale Monferrato and at Cavagnolo near Turin. He can now take an appeal to Italy's supreme Court of Cassation. Jail sentences in Italy are not usually served until the appeals process has been exhausted. Employees and their families have long claimed that Eternit did little or nothing to protect its workers and residents living around its factories from the dangers of asbestos. According to Turin Prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello, who has been probing the deaths since 2002, Eternit's products were also used to pave streets and courtyards or as roof insulation in the towns around the factories without warnings about the dangers of asbestos, resulting in decades-long exposure for the local population. In 1993, four of Eternit's former Casale Monferrato managers were convicted of wilfully neglecting safety regulations and given sentences of up to three and a half years on suits filed by 137 workers. In 2006, Eternit set up a fund of 1.25 million Swiss francs to help former employees in Switzerland who are suffering from asbestos-related illnesses. In October 2011 the multinational agreed to pay out almost nine million euros in compensation to workers at another asbestos-cement plant in the Sicilian town of Siracusa. According to the Institute for Workplace Protection and Security (ISPESL), Italy used more than 20 million tonnes of asbestos before it was banned in 1992 and until the late 1980s was one of the largest producers and importers of asbestos. ISPESL says Italy is one of the western countries worst hit by asbestos-related illnesses, with around 1,350 cases of mesothelioma reported each year.

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