FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Epic Saga of the Italian Asbestos Case

It’s been twelve long years since a criminal investigation was first opened against Stephan Schmidheiny.

Schmidheiny is one of the wealthiest men in Europe.

And he was a majority owner of Eternit, at the time one of the world’s largest asbestos companies.

Now, in a courtroom in Turin, a criminal negligence trial of Schmidheiny and another Eternit owner is about to enter its third year – and its final phase.

Barry Castleman is one of the world’s leading experts on asbestos disease.

And last year, he flew to Italy to testify on behalf of the prosecution.

“It is estimated that 3,000 people have died from asbestos related disease and as a consequence of Eternit’s activities,” Castleman said in an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter last week. “This includes Italians who worked in the Eternit plant in Switzerland.”

“In Italy, they actually investigate death on the job as a crime,” Castleman said. “And in a number of cases, they actually prosecute corporate management. There was the Seveso disaster in 1976. There were workers who were handling dye intermediates – 132 of them died from bladder cancer from handling notorious dye intermediates. Plant owners, managers, even the company doctor were jailed for terms of 3-6 years in the 1970s.”

“This current asbestos case that I was asked to testify in, in Turin, is unique in that the defendants are the owners and top management, the foreign people who were most responsible for bringing this problem to Italy and not exercising reasonable protective measures in the 1970s and 1980s.”

“The Eternit company was a multinational operation with subsidiaries all over Europe and South America and South Africa. They made asbestos cement products.”

The prosecutor is famous for bringing these kinds of cases, Castleman says.

His name is Rafaele Guariniello.

“The case is being heard by three judges,” Castleman says. “The case is being held in an auditorium in the justice ministry in Turin. The auditorium is filled with lawyers representing civil parties. Media sometimes show up.”

Why is the trial taking so long?

“The judges only hold court one day a week,” Castleman said. “When I was testifying there, I had to wait from one Monday to the next to continue. I told people I was a tourist in Turin who testified as an expert witness between 9:30 and 2:30 on Mondays.”

“I testified on two Mondays. The first time I had a horrible translator. The translator was having evident difficulty translating simple things I was saying. The newspapers even criticized the judges for not getting a better translator.”

“On the second Monday they got a great translator and everything went fine. And between Mondays, I wrote a three-and-a-half-page summary and had that translated and presented it to the judges the second Monday.”

“My role was to place the Eternit story in a global context. I introduced a letter from the Schmidheiny group to the Dutch subsidiary in 1950, listing articles on asbestosis. I showed how the industry went through an intense period of international collaboration between 1969-1971, as the industry was fighting media coverage, union pressures and government regulation in the US, the UK, and the Netherlands — but not Italy and Belgium, the document says. Documents from 1978 and 1980 show the top Eternit manager in Belgium opposing the shipment to Europe of asbestos packages with even mild health warning labels. I contrasted Eternit’s failure to put warning labels on its asbestos products through the 1980s with the US, where product liability and 1972 OSHA rules focused the industry’s attention on warning labeling much earlier.”

Does Castleman believe that there will be a conviction?

“Yes,” Castleman said. “I believe there will be convictions. I am following the Italian press. The translator and I became friends. And she sends me translations of the articles appearing in the press and keeps in touch with people who are involved.”

“A reporter for La Stampa is very good. Her name is Silvana Mossano.”

What makes you think the judges will convict?

“Stephan Schmidheiny’s lawyers, in giving closing argument, are asking for the trial to be removed to another court,” Castleman said. “That sounds to be a ridiculous thing to be doing nearly two years into the trial. No excuses that he didn’t know asbestos was deadly or thought the plant managers were taking care of protecting the workers. Waxing indignant, Schmidheiny’s lawyer ridiculed the ‘sacrosanct’ principle of rehabilitation through punishment for things done 25 years ago when ‘a person’ is not the same as he now is. The lawyer suggested that Schmidheiny’s philanthropy should take precedence over how his fortune was made. The lawyer’s rambling about the erosion of principle of law in Italian courts compared the persecution of Schmidheiny to acts of the Nazis and Guantanamo. Schmidheiny’s lawyer also claimed that the diagnostic methods used in some of the victims’ mesothelioma cases did not employ state-of-the-art techniques.”

Did the defendants ever appear in their own defense?

“They have never shown up. They only have their lawyers there.”

Could they get extradited?

“That will be up to the courts in the countries where the defendants live, I suppose,” Castleman said. “They have the right to appeal and their odds improve as they appeal to the two higher courts.”

“They don’t have to go to jail until they have exhausted their appeals.”

Do they have enough money to appeal?

“Stephan Schmidheiny has been estimated by Forbes to be worth $2.8 billion,” Castleman said.

Russell Mokhiber edits the Corporate Crime Reporter.

 

 

 

[For the complete transcript of the Interview with Barry Castleman, see 25 Corporate Crime Reporter 45(11), November 21, 2011,print edition only.]

More articles by:

Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
Jefferson Morley
On JFK, Tulsi Gabbard Keeps Very Respectable Company
Vijay Prashad
Standing Up for Left Literature: In India, It Can Cost You Your Life
Gary Leupp
Bloomberg Versus Bernie: The Upcoming Battle?
Ron Jacobs
The Young Lords: Luchadores Para La Gente
Richard Klin
Loss Leaders
Gaither Stewart
Roma: How Romans Differ From Europeans
Kerron Ó Luain
The Soviet Century
Mike Garrity
We Can Fireproof Homes But Not Forests
Fred Baumgarten
Gaslighting Bernie and His Supporters
Joseph Essertier
Our First Amendment or Our Empire, But Not Both
Peter Linebaugh
A Story for the Anthropocene
Danny Sjursen
Where Have You Gone Smedley Butler?
Jill Richardson
A Broken Promise to Teachers and Nonprofit Workers
Binoy Kampmark
“Leave Our Bloke Alone”: A Little Mission for Julian Assange
Wade Sikorski
Oil or Food? Notes From a Farmer Who Doesn’t Think Pipelines are Worth It
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of Vengeance
Hilary Moore – James Tracy
No Fascist USA! Lessons From a History of Anti-Klan Organizing
Linn Washington Jr.
Ridiculing MLK’s Historic Garden State ‘Firsts’
L. Michael Hager
Evaluating the Democratic Candidates: the Importance of Integrity
Jim Goodman
Bloomberg Won’t, as They Say, Play Well in Peoria, But Then Neither Should Trump
Olivia Alperstein
We Need to Treat Nuclear War Like the Emergency It Is
Jesse Jackson
Kerner Report Set Standard for What a Serious Presidential Candidate Should Champion
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Home Sweet Home: District Campaign Financing
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Latest BLM Hoodwinkery: “Fuel Breaks” in the Great Basin
Wendell Griffen
Grace and Gullibility
Nicky Reid
Hillary, Donald & Bernie: Three Who Would Make a Catastrophe
David Yearsley
Dresden 75
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail