20-year jail term handed in toxic pollution case

In a landmark ruling, an Ivory Coast court sentenced one man to 20 years and another to five years in jail in connection to a 2006 toxic waste dumping scandal, which killed 17 people. Seven others charged in the case were acquitted.


An Ivory Coast court on Wednesday handed down jail terms of 20 years and five years to two people for the dumping of toxic waste from a cargo ship in Abidjan in 2006 which killed 17 people and poisoned thousands.

Seven other people charged in the case were acquitted.

More than 500 cubic metres of toxic waste from a Panamanian-registered cargo ship, the Probo Koala, were dumped at public sites across Abidjan in August 2006, causing breathing problems and nausea among nearby residents.

The court -- after three hours of deliberation -- sentenced Nigerian national Salomon Ugborugbo, head of the Tommy company which dumped the waste from the Probo Koala, to 20 years in jail.

Ivory Coast Attorney General Damou Kouyate had requested that he be sentenced to life in prison for poisoning.

Essoin Kouao, who worked as a shipping agent at the Port of Abijan and had recommended the Tommy company to the Probo Koala's charterer, received a five-year jail term. He had been charged with complicity in poisoning.

Kouyate had said the those involved in the poisoning were motivated "by a wild quest for money" to set up a "fatal deal".

No executives from Trafigura, which chartered the Probo Koala, were on trial after the Dutch multinational reached a 152-million-euro (215-million-dollar) settlement with the Ivorian government last year in return for indemnity against prosecution.

The deadly incidents date from August 2006 when tanker trucks hired by Ugborugbo dumped 528 cubic metres of waste "slops" from the Probo Koala at public sites across Abidjan.

The slops were in fact a toxic mix of petroleum residues, sulphur and caustic soda which had accumulated in the ship.

Exposure to the waste caused respiratory difficulties, nausea and other medical problems among nearby residents, prompting the evacuation of entire neighbourhoods.

Prosecutors had requested jail terms of up to 20 years for five of the accused who had been charged with complicity to poison or breaking environmental and public safety laws.

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