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Trafigura fined in Dutch court

Written by Tim Mount on 25 July 2010

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A Dutch court this week fined Trafigura 1 million euros for exporting toxic waste to Ivory Coast and concealing the harmful nature of the waste.

Trafigura, a Swiss-based commodities giant and oil trading company, initially tried to clean up hundreds of tonnes of low-grade oil by tipping caustic soda into the hold of the ship it was carried from Amsterdam to Ivory Coast in, the Probo Koala. Prosecution was possible as Trafigura is registered in the Netherlands.

The company had tried to unload the waste in Amsterdam for treatment, declaring it as harmless slops but had baulked at the price from the Amsterdam Port Services of 750 euros per tonne after they identified it as worse. Trafigura eventually paid 27 euros per tonne to Compagnie Tommy, an Ivorian operator. Compagnie Tommy used a fleet of trucks to dump the slops under cover of darkness in the open air at sites around Abidjan.

Trafigura lawyer Robert de Bree says Trafigura is disappointed with the Dutch conviction and has indicated that they may appeal. Trafigura in a statement noted that

it is important the court noted there was limited risk to human health... and indeed no damage occurred in Amsterdam.

Trafigura have always denied knowledge but the court said that such a disparity of treatment price meant that Trafigura should never have agreed.

The firm was fined 1m euros (836,894 pounds) for its ship, the Probo Koala, transiting Amsterdam with its cargo. Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed, who was involved in the ship's operation in Amsterdam, was fined 25,000 euros and the captain of the Probo Koala, 46-year-old Sergiy Chertov, was sentenced to a five-year suspended jail term. Both these sentences were for forgery regarding the submitting of false declarations regarding the nature of the waste as they attempted to dispose of it.

The judge hearing the case said Trafigura could be fined because the behaviour contravened European regulations on toxic waste aimed to prevent, the export of waste to the Third World and harming the environment.

Trafigura had 651m pound profits last year and in that context the punishment represents not much of its annual earnings. The legal bill for unsuccessfully defending a UK action over compensation to Ivory Coast claimants was over 100 million pounds to the claimant solicitors Leigh Day. Which is a bit more. Compensation was 30 million to 29,000 claimants. Which is just over a thousand pounds each.

When that case was settled, the joint settlement statement said that more than 20 independent experts had been

unable to identify a link between exposure to the chemicals released from the slops and deaths, miscarriages, still births, birth defects, loss of visual acuity or other serious and chronic injuries... Leigh Day & Co, in the light of the expert evidence, now acknowledge that the slops could at worst have caused a range of short-term low-level flu-like symptoms and anxiety.

It remains Trafigura's position that it did not foresee, and could not have foreseen, the reprehensible acts of Compagnie Tommy in dumping the slops in and around Abidjan in August and September 2006, and that Compagnie Tommy acted entirely independently of, and without any authority from, Trafigura.

Nevertheless, Trafigura regrets that this incident occurred and is pleased that the matter has now been resolved.

They have consistently denied any wrongdoing in the foul-smelling sludge being dumped in the open air by Compagnie Tommy. The Trafigura website states the following:

Since the very first years, Trafigura and all its employees, deeply conscious of their social responsibilities, have shown a strong commitment to charitable support and philanthropy in the communities where they operate.

Launched in November 2007, the Trafigura Foundation was inspired by a desire to pool, support and coordinate all these charitable and community-oriented actions around the world.

One wonders. However students and academics are angry that Oxford University has accepted more than 3m pounds from Graham Sharp one of the three co-founders of the company.

Sharp graduated from Oxford in 1983 with a first-class in engineering, economics and management retiring from Trafigura operational business in 2007 and went on to found the Trafigura Helsington Foundation, a Liechtenstein-based trust that gave 3.25m to fund a new summer school at Oxford to help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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