• Switzerland's news in English
Italy's PM upset over Swiss mogul's acquittal
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Italy's PM upset over Swiss mogul's acquittal

AFP · 20 Nov 2014, 18:57

Published: 20 Nov 2014 18:57 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

In a ruling greeted with fury by relatives of the victims, the Court of Cassation on Wednesday quashed the conviction and 18-year prison sentence given to tycoon Stephan Schmidheiny over inadequate safety provisions in asbestos-cement plants run by his now defunct group Eternit in Italy in the 1970s and 80s.

"If an episode like Eternit is not a crime or if it is a crime and subject to prescription then we have to change the rules of the game," Renzi said.

"We cannot have this nightmare of prescription. The demand for justice does not diminish with time. There is some pain that cannot be healed by time."

The court ruled that Schmidheiny, a scion of a Swiss industrial dynasty now regarded as a philanthrophist, should not have been convicted of causing a health or environmental catastrophe because the verdict came more than 12 years after the crime and was therefore subject to the statute of limitation applicable to the specific charges.

Homicide charges

Raffaele Guariniello, the Turin prosecutor in charge of the case, said he would seek to have Schmidheiny retried for homicide.

"The Court of Cassation did not conclude in favour of absolution," he said. "The crime was committed, and it was committed with intent.

"This is not a moment of disappointment, it is a new start. We will not throw in the towel."

Three separate homicide cases have been opened in Turin, one related to Italian deaths from mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer, one related to the deaths of ex-workers at an asbestos mine near Turin and one into the deaths of Italians who worked in Eternit plants in Switzerland and Brazil.

The pursuit of Schmidheiny was the biggest case of its kind against a multinational over asbestos-related deaths.

After a criminal probe launched in 2004, the Swiss tycoon was first convicted, after a three-year trial, in 2012 and sentenced in absentia to 16 years in prison. That term was raised to 18 years by an appeal court a year later.

Asbestos-related conditions have decimated whole families. Romana Blassotti, 85, who lost her husband, daughter, sister and two other close relatives, said the latest court ruling was hard to bear.

"I am tired of seeing people die around me. This hurts like you cannot imagine," she said.

"But we will keep fighting, not for us but for our young people," the pensioner told La Repubblica.

The two lower courts both concluded that Eternit had continued to use asbestos with a negligent disregard for safety up until its bankruptcy in 1986, by which time the fatal toxicity of the material was widely recognized, not just by industry or health specialists, who first warned of its dangers a century ago.

Story continues below…

Schmidheiny was once referred to by Forbes as the "Bill Gates of Switzerland" for his philanthropy. The US magazine estimates his personal fortune at $3 billion (€2.4 billion).

His lawyers argued in the first two trials that he should not have been prosecuted as he did not have direct involvement in Eternit Italy.

The legal point was also discussed in the lower courts, where judges ruled that the date of the crime was elastic since the health problems it caused were still emerging.

Once hailed as a miracle product, asbestos was used mainly as building insulation for its sound absorption and resistance to fire, heat and electrical damage. It was banned in Europe in 2005, but is still widely used in the developing world.

The inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause lung inflammation and cancer, and symptoms can take up to 20 years to manifest after exposure.

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
‘Scary clown’ craze hits streets of Zurich
Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP

Police in Zurich have warned so-called ‘scary clowns’ that they could face charges, following a number of incidents in the city.

VIDEO: driver chases runaway car on Swiss motorway
Image: Neuchâtel police

Shocking footage shows the moment a man dodged lorries to chase after his runaway car on a Swiss motorway.

Saas-Fee crowdfunds low-cost season ski pass
Saas-Fee is hoping to attract 99,999 season pass holders. Photo: Denis Emery/Photo-genic.ch

Skiers could get their hands on a whole season pass for just 222 francs ($223) in the Swiss resort of Saas Fee this winter – if enough people want one.

Swiss billionaire fined for dodging import tax
Urs Schwarzenbach owns the luxury Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich. Photo: Wilhem Rosenkranz

Urs Schwarzenbach faces a $4 million fine for failing to properly declare some 200 artworks imported into Switzerland.

Muslim woman wins headscarf court battle
Photo: Jack Guez / AFP

A Swiss court has ruled against a company that fired a longtime employee after she began wearing the Muslim headscarf.

Montreux throws hat in Olympic rings
Could Montreux host the 2026 Games? Photo: Ivo Scholz/Swiss Tourism

Montreux is to put itself forward as the host city for the 2026 winter Olympics as part of a potential bid by the cantons of Valais and Vaud.

Geneva car share scheme could help reduce city traffic
Catch a Car is aimed at short hops within a city. Photo: Catch a Car

Catch a Car, already in Basel, launches in Geneva next month.

Swiss women will ‘work for free’ for the rest of year
Female employees in Switzerland earn 19.3 percent less than their male colleagues. File photo: Randy Kashka

Switzerland's gender pay gap means from today, Friday October 21st, women in the country will effectively be working for free for the rest of 2016.

Swiss luxury watches stolen in Paris raid
Police outside the Girard-Perregaux watch store on Thursday. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

The 10 Girard-Perregaux watches are worth half a million euros in total.

Brother-in-law arrested over murder of Swiss teacher
The victim worked in a school in Stabio, near the town of Mendrisio. Photo: Oliver Graf

The primary school teacher was found dead in Ticino earlier this week.

Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
Photo: file
Some deodorants could cause breast cancer: Swiss study
Photo: Royal Savoy
In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: AFP
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
jobs available