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Toxic waste ship trial opens against Swiss firm Trafigura

Dutch prosecutors have opened their case against the Swiss firm Trafigura, which is accused of breaking environmental laws by exporting toxic waste. Dumped contaminants have been linked to deaths in the Ivory Coast.

A man wearing a protective suit at the site where toxic waste was dumped

Toxic waste was dumped on the outskirts of Abidjan

Prosecutors in the Netherlands have opened their case against a Swiss-based company accused of breaking Dutch environmental laws by exporting toxic waste to the Ivory Coast.

The court heard charges on Tuesday that the firm, Trafigura, had illegally exported waste to Ivory Coast and that forgery was used to hide the nature of a ship's cargo.

"There are international rules, and these have to be followed," prosecutor Luuk Boogert told judges.

A judge's gavel

A judgement against Trafigura could prove costly

As well as the multinational company itself facing charges, proceedings are also being brought against the ship's captain and four other individuals.

The courts heard that the ship had been due to dispose of hundreds of metric tons of chemical waste in Amsterdam in July 2006. However, the company decided against this after waste treatment costs were increased.

Thousands complained of illness

The waste, caustic soda and petroleum residues, was dumped on the outskirts of the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan about a month later. Thousands of residents complained of sickness and it is alleged that 17 people died as a result.

A court case in Britain found no link between the waste and the deaths, but a United Nations report published last September said there was "strong" evidence that it was connected to at least 15 fatalities. The company denies any link.

No-one was in court for Trafigura, which risks a fine of up to 1.34 million euros ($1.66 million).

Charges have also been brought against the managing director of Amsterdam Port Services, Evert Uittenbosch, and the city of Amsterdam. They are accused of failing to prevent the export of dangerous waste.

rc/Reuters/AFP
Editor: Rob Turner

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