Oil giant Trafigura was convicted by the court in Amsterdam today for illegally exporting toxic waste from the port of Amsterdam to Côte d'Ivoire. Trafigura was also found guilty of concealing the nature of the waste when it was submitted to the Amsterdam waste processing company APS. The court imposed a fine of € 1 million. The judge described the illegal export as the most severe kind of offence and imposed the maximum fine.
The captain of the Probo Koala, the ship that took the waste to Côte d'Ivoire, was given a suspended jail sentence of five months. A Trafigura employee received a fine of € 25,000 and a suspended jail sentence of six months. The city authorities of Amsterdam, APS and the former director of the waste processing company were cleared.
Greenpeace instigated proceedings against Trafigura in 2006 and is happy that, after four years, the courts have finally passed a severe judgement on the company's reprehensible conduct. "This is a first step towards justice and a clear signal to other companies that the illegal export of waste to Africa will not go unpunished", said Marietta Harjono, Greenpeace's campainer toxic. "But it's only a beginning. The dumping of the waste in Africa was not covered by this case. That is why the victims from Abidjan were not parties to the proceedings. The top management of the company knew what was going on and put financial profit before protecting people and the environment, but they still don't have to appear before the courts."
In order to get the Department of Public Prosecutions to prosecute Trafigura for the actual dumping, Greenpeace initiated proceedings last year with the Court of Appeal in The Hague.(1) "Only then can there be real justice", Harjono pointed out. "The damage inflicted by the waste was in Côte d'Ivoire. The people there have the right to know what they were exposed to and where the waste was dumped. After all, it's their health that's at stake." Internal e-mails submitted by Greenpeace in evidence show that it was known right up to the top of the company that the waste was possibly dangerous. It also became clear that there were only a restricted number of locations for the processing of the waste and that there are rules in place prohibiting the export of the waste to Africa.
The Probo Koala, which was chartered by Trafigura, arrived at Amsterdam in July 2006 to unload the ship's waste. When APS realised that the waste was not the same as Trafigura claimed, and that processing would be much more expensive, Trafigura refused tp pay the higer price and had the waste pumped back on board. After taking a roundabout route calling on a few other countries, including Nigeria, the ship arrived at the harbour of Abidjan. A small company was called in, which dumped the waste at numerous locations in and around the city. According to the authorities of Côte d'Ivoire, 16 people died as a result of exposure to the waste and many tens of thousands of people became ill. Trafigura itself claims that the waste cannot have caused any serious harm.
For more information:
Marietta Harjono, Greenpeace campaigner toxis
+31 (0)6 1500 74 11
Leon Varitimos, Greenpeace press officer, +31 (0)6 2503 10 12
1: The Court of Appeal in The Hague looked at the Greenpeace charges on Wednesday 19 May. It decided to continue with the hearing on 8 September. The extent and severity of the dumping are clearly such that the Court has set aside an extra day for the hearing. This means that the decision will be in October at the earliest.