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By Scott Bobb
Johannesburg
23 October 2008

A court in the Ivory Coast has sentenced two men to prison terms for dumping toxic waste that killed 17 people two years ago in Abidjan. But activists are criticizing the case because the trading company that transported the waste was not prosecuted. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from our bureau in Johannesburg.

The director general of Ivorian company Tommy, Salomon Ugborugbo, at his trial in Abidjan, 20 Oct., 2008
The director general of Ivorian company Tommy, Salomon Ugborugbo, at his trial in Abidjan, 20 Oct., 2008
Environmental activists are expressing satisfaction over the sentences handed down in the Ivorian toxic waste case. But they say justice has not been rendered because the Trafigura company that chartered the ship carrying the waste was not prosecuted and refused even to appear as a witness.

Late Wednesday, an Ivorian court sentenced the director, Salomon Ugborugbo, of a local company to 20 years in prison in the case. It also sentenced an Ivorian shipping agent Desire Kouao to five years behind bars for complicity. Seven other defendants were acquitted.

But an official with the Greenpeace environmental group, Marietta Harjono, says Trafigura was not prosecuted because it received immunity from the Ivorian government earlier this year in exchange for a $200 million payment.

"This [case] is nothing more than a showcase," she said. "And we are very disappointed that Trafigura, the big fish that actually decided to dump the toxic waste, is not part of the criminal prosecution."

Trafigura chartered the Probo Koala two years ago to dispose of 500 cubic meters of toxic waste. After the ship docked at the port of Abidjan, it hired a local company that dumped the waste at more than one dozen locations around the city. Seventeen people died and thousands more required treatment after inhaling fumes from the waste.

The mixture of petroleum and caustic products had been used to clean the inside of tankers. Trafigura denies responsibility, saying pollution already in Abidjan was responsible for the casualties and it offered the payment as a humanitarian gesture to the victims.

Activist Harjono says the case of the Probo Koala represents a new aspect to the problem of controlling the dumping of hazardous waste.

"We see chemical processing of oil products happening at sea on board ships, outside anybody's control, where a lot of toxic waste is generated. And we just do not know where this toxic waste is ending [up]," she said.

She says an international law is needed to protect people from what she calls a new industry. She says she hopes upcoming court cases will help clarify the issue.

Trafigura faces a criminal case next year in the Netherlands, where it sought to discharge the toxic waste before sending it to Africa. It reportedly also faces a possible class-action lawsuit in London brought by British lawyers seeking millions of dollars in compensation for the Ivorian victims.

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