Constitutional Court OKs fresh trial (2)

In 258 Eternit asbestos deaths

(ANSA) - Rome, July 21 - The Constitutional Court on Thursday green-lit a multiple manslaughter trial against Swiss tycoon Stephan Schmidheiny for the asbestos deaths of 258 workers at four Eternit cement plants while he owned the company. In 2012 he was found guilty of negligence at the now-defunct Eternit's Italian factories in the 1970s and 1980s and sentenced to 18 years in prison, but Italy's highest Cassation Court overturned the verdict in November 2014 on the grounds that the case had timed out.
    "Damages and compensation are also voided because the crime timed out before the conviction," the chief justices of the Cassation Court wrote in their decision.
    The Court pointed out that 15 years had passed since the Italian government outlawed asbestos in 1993 and when it first indicted Schmidheiny in 2009.
    "This was well over the 15 years required for the charges to time out based on (a) 2005 law," the Court wrote.
    Families of the victims were so outraged that the prosecution announced they would not drop the case but would try to find other avenues to follow.
    In July last year, the bitter and long-running Eternit case was referred to Italy's Constitutional Court to rule on whether the former company owner could be tried a second time.
    In the case's latest twist, a preliminary court judge has asked for a ruling on the constitutionality of a second trial against Schmidheiny.
    Schmidheiny had been charged with failing to provide adequate safety measures at four Eternit cement plants in Italy, charges he has denied.
    Asbestos-linked tumours have been reported among Eternit staff, their families, and people living near the factories affected by asbestos dust in the air, while hundreds more are ill.
    Mining of asbestos began in parts of the world in the 19th century, and the mineral was prized for its insulating abilities.
    However, as its dangers to health became better known including the links between inhaled asbestos fibres and lung cancer, authorities around the world started to ban its use.
    Critics have said that some 2,000 people have died because of the Eternit plants and their production, including its use as in insulation.
    Asbestos-related illness continues, by some estimates at a pace of about 50 new cases per year.
    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.
    Premier Matteo Renzi has pledged to change Italy's statute of limitations amid widespread anger and dismay after Schmidheiny's conviction was overturned.


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