I Coast 'toxic deaths a myth'

Amsterdam - Lawyers for a firm charged with dumping possibly deadly waste in the Ivory Coast in 2006 argued on Thursday that the case against it was based on a "myth", spread by greens, politicians and the media.

The Ivorian government says 17 people died after caustic soda and petroleum residues were shipped away from the Port of Amsterdam and redirected to Abidjan, where they were dumped on city waste tips.

Multinational Trafigura, whose chartered ship the Probo Koala dumped the waste in Ivory Coast, is charged with breaking Dutch environment and waste export laws and faces a €2m fine at its trial in the Netherlands.

The company, which has already reached an out-of-court settlement with the Ivory Coast government, denies any link between the waste and casualties.

"It has not been proven that the events in Ivory Coast caused serious harm to the health of the population, or that they could have done," defence lawyer Mischa Wladimiroff told the court on Thursday.

He said the toxic waste had fuelled "a defamation campaign against Trafigura by environmental activists, journalists and politicians".

The case, he argued, was built on a "myth", based on "numerous suppositions based on the incorrect facts" relayed by the media and politicians on the harm caused by the waste.

Political pressure

"Were it not for political pressure... Trafigura would not be appearing here as a defendant in your court," he told the judges.

Trafigura is standing trial alongside waste treatment company Amsterdam Port Services (APS) and the Ukrainian captain of the Probo Koala.

The waste, slops from the cleaning of fuel transportation tanks, was pumped back into the Probo Koala and taken to Ivory Coast after APS demanded a higher price for treatment as it was more toxic than previously thought.

Trafigura declined to pay the increased price.

The firm's damages settlement with the Ivory Coast government, reached in February 2007 for €152m, has exempted it from legal proceedings in that country.

A court case in Britain was dropped after a €33m settlement for 31 000 plaintiffs was reached in September last year on the basis of an independent experts' report that found no link between the waste and 17 deaths and thousands of poisoning cases claimed by the Ivory Coast.

But a United Nations report published last September found "strong" evidence blaming the waste for at least 15 deaths and several hospitalisations.

The trial is expected to conclude on July 9 with a verdict to be announced on July 23.

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