Trafigura fined €1m for exporting toxic waste to Africa

23 July 2010
Dutch court convicts oil trader of illegally exporting waste to Ivory Coast and concealing its hazardous nature in Amsterdam

The controversial oil trader Trafigura was today fined €1m (£840,000) for illegally exporting tonnes of hazardous waste to west Africa.

A court in the Netherlands also ruled that the London-based firm had concealed the dangerous nature of the waste when it was initially unloaded from a ship in Amsterdam.

It is the first time that Trafigura has been convicted of criminal charges over the environmental scandal in which 30,000 Africans were made ill when the toxic waste was dumped in Ivory Coast.

The fine was half the amount requested by Dutch prosecutors.

The Amsterdam district court judge, Frans Bauduin, also convicted a Trafigura employee for his role in the 2006 scandal, and the Ukranian captain of the ship that carried the waste.

Bauduin said Trafigura was fined because it had done what European regulations on toxic waste aimed to prevent, "namely the export of waste to the third world and harming the environment".

The seven-week trial centred on Trafigura's initial attempt to get rid of the waste cheaply in the Netherlands. The Dutch prosecutor, Look Bougert, told the court that Trafigura had put "self-interest above people's health and the environment".

He said Trafigura had wrongly described the waste as routine slops from ordinary tank-cleaning. Residents complained about the foul smell, and the company hired to dispose of the waste wanted more money for the job.

Trafigura then pumped hundreds of tonnes of the toxic waste back on to its tanker and left the Netherlands. The tanker, Probo Koala, was sent to the Ivory Coast port city of Abidjan, where the cost of getting rid of the waste was much lower.

Instead of disposing of the waste properly, Trafigura "dumped it over the fence" in Abidjan, Bougert said. "Cheap, but with consequences," he added.

Amid an international furore, Trafigura was last year forced to pay compensation to thousands of Africans who needed medical treatment. The civil legal action had been brought by the London lawyers Leigh Day.

Trafigura said it would study today's ruling and consider an appeal. "While Trafigura is pleased to have been acquitted of the charge of forgery, it is disappointed by the judge's ruling on the other two, which it believes to be incorrect," it said.

"Concerning the delivery of dangerous goods, it is important that the court has noted that there was limited risk to human health from these slops, and indeed no damage occurred in Amsterdam," it added. Trafigura has insisted the waste could not have caused serious illness.

The court convicted a Trafigura employee, Naeem Ahmed, for leading the effort to dump the waste "while its dangerous nature was concealed". Ahmed was fined €25,000 and given a six-month suspended sentence, meaning he will not serve prison time unless he commits another crime within two years.

"Trafigura continues to maintain that Naeem did nothing wrong and will provide him and his legal team with whatever legal assistance they may require," the company said.

The Ukrainian captain of the Probo Koala, Sergiy Chertov, was sentenced to a five-month suspended prison term for the same offence and forgery, for concealing the nature of the waste in a written declaration.

Last year Trafigura was forced to withdraw in the face of a row when it attempted to enforce a super-injunction against the Guardian, gagging it from reporting proceedings in parliament.

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