A Dutch court has found multinational Trafigura
guilty of illegally exporting toxic waste from Amsterdam and concealing
the nature of the cargo.
In 2006, Trafigura transported waste alleged to have been
involved in the injury of thousands of people in Ivory Coast. Trafigura
denied any wrongdoing.
It expressed disappointment in the ruling and is considering an appeal.
The firm was fined 1m euros (£836,894) for its ship, the Probo Koala, transiting Amsterdam with its cargo.
The ship then went on to unload its cargo in Ivory Coast.
Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed, who was involved in the ship's
operation in Amsterdam, was fined 25,000 euros and the captain of the
Probo Koala, 46-year-old Sergiy Chertov, was sentenced to a five-year
suspended jail term.
This is the first time Trafigura has faced criminal charges
since the toxic waste scandal unfolded in Ivory Coast's commercial
capital, Abidjan, in 2006.
Trafigura, an oil trading company, initially tried to clean
up low-grade oil by tipping caustic soda into the hold of the Probo
Koala. The company tried to unload the waste in Amsterdam for treatment,
declaring it as "harmless slops".
When the treatment company came back with a higher price for
cleaning the waste, the cargo was shipped to Africa where it ended up in
Abidjan to be handled at a much lower rate.
Presiding Judge Frans Bauduin said: "Trafigura - which by
that time knew of the exact composition [of the waste] - should never
have agreed to its processing at such a price."
Trafigura said it was pleased to have been acquitted of the charge of
forgery, but was "disappointed by the judges' ruling on the other two,
which it believes to be incorrect".
A statement from Trafigura said: "Concerning the delivery of
dangerous goods, it is important that the court has noted that there was
limited risk to human health from these slops, and indeed no damage
occurred in Amsterdam."
Trafigura said that it was considering an appeal.
A lawyer representing the company, Robert de Bree, said: "I
think it's important to notice that the convictions relate to highly
technical, complex legal matters and we will carefully study the
judgement to look at the possibility of an appeal."
Another Trafigura lawyer, Michael Wladimiroff, was quoted by
Associated Press news agency as saying the company believed the Marine
Pollution Treaty applied and that the court had incorrectly applied the
terms of another waste management treaty.
The firm also maintained that Mr Ahmed "did nothing wrong".
Greenpeace, which brought this case, has welcomed the outcome,
saying it was a warning to firms not to export waste to developing
Greenpeace toxics campaigner, Marietta Harjono, said that further
legal action should be taken against Trafigura: "We must also be very
clear that justice is not complete yet, because this is only the
beginning, because Trafigura has not been brought to trial yet for the
deliberate dumping of toxic waste in Africa."
One of those who fell ill after waste was dumped, Ivorian Guy
Oulla, told the BBC: "I believe it is a very good decision because
people should pay for what they do, you know. So, I agree with that
decision. You know, we live in Africa and it could happen again because
in Africa people do everything for money."
In 2008, a court in Ivory Coast found two non-Trafigura employees guilty of illegally dumping the waste.
A Nigerian national named Salomon Ugborugbo was sentenced to 20 years in jail.
He was the head of an Abidjan firm, Tommy, which Trafigura
said it contracted in good faith to handle the waste from the Probo
Essoin Kouao, who worked as a shipping agent at the Port of
Abidjan and had recommended Tommy to Trafigura, received a five-year
In 2007 Trafigura paid $160m (£104m) to the government of Ivory Coast without admitting liability.
Trafigura also paid $50m (£32m) in an out-of-court settlement
to individuals in Ivory Coast who said they had been injured when the
waste was spread on dumps around Abidjan.