Commodities trader Trafigura, the city of Amsterdam, and others were charged with violating environmental laws when transporting toxic waste that ultimately ended up in the open air in Ivory Coast.
Chartered by Dutch-based Trafigura Beheer BV, the ship Probo Koala had wanted to dispose of hundreds of tonnes of chemical slops in Amsterdam in July 2006 but decided not to after being told it would have to pay clean-up costs.
About a month later, the material was dumped in the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan and thousands of residents of the city complained of illnesses.
The government of Ivory Coast said 16 people died but a British judge said last September there was no evidence the waste had caused anything more than “flu-like symptoms”.
Trafigura denies any wrongdoing for events in Ivory Coast and the Netherlands.
The events in Ivory Coast are not part of the prosecutors’ charges nor are they part of the investigation, but the prosecutors suspect the parties of violating environmental or criminal laws.
Public prosecutor Luuk Boogert told the court he believed Trafigura let self-interest prevail over public health and the environment, by disguising the waste’s origin and make-up.
“The waste is thrown over the fence, dumped in a third world country. Cheap but with big risks for public health and the environment. The company saves €400 000,” Boogert said.
He charged Trafigura with illegally exporting waste to Ivory Coast, concealing its harmfulness and forgery.
Trafigura lawyer Aldo Verbruggen told the court: “Trafigura is a company which holds high doing business in a socially responsible manner and it is convinced it has followed the rules that are at issue.”
Prosecutor Boogert also charged Amsterdam Port Services BV (APS), a former APS director, the ship’s captain, a Trafigura employee, and the city of Amsterdam of offences including forgery, complicity or illegally handing over waste.
Probo Koala had wanted APS to process the waste and offered it a sample for testing.
Lawyer Alexander de Swart, representing APS and the former APS director, said he was confident of the outcome of the trial because APS had clearance from city authorities to pump back the waste sample.
A spokeswoman for the city of Amsterdam declined on Monday to comment and would not comment until its day of trial was due on June 8.
Lawyers for the ship’s captain and the Trafigura employee were not immediately available to comment.
Trafigura, Amsterdam and APS face multiple charges which could each result in fines of up to €670 000 ($820 800).
Three individuals, including a Trafigura employee, face prison time and fines, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors said.
Hearings are scheduled to take place until July 2. It may take up to several months before a judge makes a ruling, which can be appealed.
Pic: Probo Koala ship