Toxic Trafigura!

New corruption charges bring renewed hope for justice

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Feature story - February 2, 2011
Trafigura, the Dutch-headed multinational responsible for dumping toxic waste in the Côte d’Ivoire in 2006, is under investigation by the Dutch Public Prosecutor -- good news in our campaign to bring justice to the people of Côte d’Ivoire.

'Trafigura doesn't want to hear your story'

Doumbia Siaka, Amado Bakayoko, and Greenpeace campaigner Marietta Harjono, outside the headquarters of Trafigura head office in Amsterdam. Siaka and Bakayoko were hired as drivers in 2006 by Trafigura to dispose of toxic waste from the ship Probo Koala in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan. They were two of the nine truck drivers who dumped the waste in many different sites in and around the city. Doumbia and Amado went twice to the Amsterdam headquarters of Trafigura to demand apologies from the company for not disclosing the toxic nature of the waste that they were asked to dispose of. Both times they were told that the management of Trafigura could and would not hear their story.

Trafigura is suspected of paying bribes to a leading Jamaican politician in 2006. The Public Prosecutor has said that a thorough investigation is needed. This is good news for our cause: if corruption justifies an investigation, the Public Prosecutor has no choice but to prosecute Trafigura for the environmental and human disaster it caused in Côte d’Ivoire.

Article 12

Wednesday, 2 February 2011, is the date of the last hearing in the Court of Appeal in The Hague in the complaint proceedings initiated by Greenpeace against the Public Prosecutor. In 2010, Trafigura Beheer B.V. was convicted for the illegal exports of toxic waste from the port of Amsterdam to Côte d’Ivoire.

Trafigura was not prosecuted for dumping the waste, which the Ivorian authorities claim caused 16 deaths and health problems for many tens of thousands. Greenpeace thought this was unacceptable and initiated "Article 12" proceedings as the final resort in our pursuit of justice. However, the Public Prosecutor continues to maintain that the search for the truth in Côte d’Ivoire is too difficult and that it has no jurisdiction to prosecute Trafigura for a crime in Africa.

We think both these arguments are highly questionable.

Double standards

There is now plenty of evidence pointing to Trafigura's guilt for the waste dumping in Côte d’Ivoire. For example, there are company e-mails showing that the Trafigura management knew how dangerous the waste was but that the company decided to send it to Africa anyway so that it could dump it at a giveaway price.

The Public Prosecutor has also seen shocking witness statements about possible intimidation and bribery of important witnesses: the Ivorian drivers who transported the waste in 2006. The position of the Public Prosecutor remains unchanged: there is no jurisdiction to prosecute a crime in Africa. Even so, prosecution proceedings targeting corruption in Jamaica are apparently no problem. Trafigura is thought to have bribed a Jamaican politician with the apparent aim of extending an oil contract of Nigerian oil.

Bribery or toxic waste disaster

Bribing politicians is of course highly reprehensible and it merits criminal proceedings. However, the possibly deliberate instigation of a toxic waste disaster, with the risk of fatalities and environmental damage, merits the same treatment. Trafigura's behaviour with respect to the dumping of its toxic waste in Africa is so severe that the Public Prosecutor cannot simply drop the case.

Dumping the waste is more than a simple environmental offence. For the people of Abidjan, it is a question of their right to life and a healthy environment. It is expected that the Court of Appeal in The Hague will decide within a few weeks whether prosecution proceedings should be initiated in this case.

Luxury hotel

The toxic waste dump in Côte d’Ivoire is also surrounded by a shadow of corruption. Documents recently obtained by Greenpeace show that the highest boss of the port in Abidjan (general manager) stayed in Paris in a luxury hotel at the expense of Trafigura Beheer BV just a few months before Trafigura’s toxic waste was dumped in the port. The general manager of the port played a very shady role in relation to the waste dump, as appeared later from an Ivorian inquiry.

Just before the dump the permit of the shady company Compagnie Tommy was expanded in a crucial way. This was the company that dumped the waste from the Probo Koala in various places in and around Abidjan. Moreover, shortly after the waste dump the port authorities stopped the inspection and the arrest of the Probo Koala in Côte d’Ivoire.

All these facts led the National Inquiry Committee to conclude in November 2006 that the port authorities were accessories to both the waste dump and the departure of the Probo Koala from Abidjan. Nevertheless, the general manager was reinstated in his position of general manager of the port by the Ivorian president several days after the critical report had come out. Greenpeace has asked Trafigura to comment on this issue. The company has decided not to respond to the information presented.