Ivory Coast Toxic Dumping Case Settled for US$198 Million

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, February 15, 2007 (ENS) - An Amsterdam-based multinational commodities trading company has ageed to pay the equivalent of US$198 million to settle claims that it arranged to dump 400 tons of toxic waste in the port city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Ten people died and some 100,000 others were sickened in the August 2006 incident.


Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo tries to comfort victims of toxic poisoning in Abidjan. (Photo by Willy Aka courtesy Abidjan.net
After the settlement Tuesday, Ivory Coast authorities released three jailed executives of the commodity trading group Trafigura. The Ivory Coast government has agreed to drop all charges against the company and its executives will not pursue any further financial claims against Trafigura.

Trafigura said Wednesday it "welcomes the release of its employees Claude Dauphin, Jean-Pierre Valentini and Nzi Kablan by the Ivory Coast authorities." The company and the executives maintain their innocence.

The toxic waste scandal first came to light in early September 2006, nearly two weeks after the tanker Probo Koala delivered 400 tons of petrochemical waste to Abidjan.

The waste, which contained a mixture of gasoline, water, caustic washings and the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide, was unloaded in Abidjan on August 19 and then dumped in open air sites throughout the densely populated city.

Trafigura said in a statement, "Neither the company nor the Ivory Coast government accepts liability for the events of last August involving the Probo Koala. However, Trafigura takes its role as a global citizen very seriously and to that end is financially supporting the government for the future health of its citizens."

"We have accepted the clauses of the contract," said Desire Tagro, a spokesman for Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, on state-run radio Tuesday. "From today, we put an end to our legal proceedings against Trafigura. However, this does not include the proceedings undertaken against the multinational outside of Cote d'Ivoire."


Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
A British law firm, Leigh Day & Co, is pursuing a class action lawsuit against Trafigura on behalf of the toxic waste victims.

President Gbagbo said that most of the money from the settlement would go to help the victims.

Trafigura said part of the funds would be spent to construct a new waste disposal plant and a new hospital in Abidjan. Part of the money would go to finance an independent environmental audit in Abidjan and an assessment of the ongoing impact of the waste dumping on the local people.

Eric de Turckheim, a Trafigura director said, “Both the Ivorian government and Trafigura can now move forward together to act in the best interests of the people of Abidjan.”

He said Trafigura will continue doing business in the Ivory Coast. “We have been working in the country for 10 years, making significant investments there for the benefit of the country and its people,” de Turckheim said. “We look forward to continuing to work successfully in the country, and are committed to working and investing in both the Ivory Coast and Africa as a whole.”

Following his release from custody in Abidjan, Trafigura director Claude Dauphin said, "My colleagues and I are relieved and overjoyed to be in the arms of our families again after five months in jail as innocent men.

"We went to the Ivory Coast on a mission to help the people of Abidjan, and to find ourselves arrested and in jail as a result has been a terrible ordeal for ourselves and our families," said Dauphin, who founded Trafigura in 1993 with de Turckheim.

"If any good can come of this," said Dauphin, "myself and my colleagues now look forward to Trafigura and the Ivorian government working together for a better future for the people of Abidjan."

The toxic waste crisis prompted the Ivory Coast's prime minister to dissolve his 32-member cabinet and the city was rocked by protests over the government's handling of the tragedy. Angry residents set fire to the home of the Abidjan port director and attacked the country's transport minister.


The tanker Probo Koala (Photo courtesy Interet-General.info)
A French firm eventually cleaned up the waste and shipped it to France for disposal.

Environmentalists say the events in Abidjan are a sad reminder that the Basel Convention has failed to stem the dumping of waste in the Third world.

"It's time the Basel Convention Parties once and for all agree to an interpretation that puts this much needed ban into the force of international law," said Jim Puckett, a hazardous waste trade expert with the Basel Action Network, BAN. "There can be no excuse not to accomplish this at the first opportunity."

Greenpeace condemned the deal because it was struck the day before the results of the criminal investigations in the Ivory Coast, The Netherlands and Estonia, where the Probo Koala was impounded, were published.

The committee commissioned by the Ivory Coast to look into the international implications of the disaster, the Commission Internationale d'Enquete sur les Dechets Toxiques dans le District d'Abidjan, was scheduled to publish its report Wednesday.

"One cannot do justice without knowing the facts in their entirety. At this stage, it would have been more appropriate to secure a provisional settlement with an advance payment, rather than one that closes the books definitively, especially when the full extent of liabilities have not yet been determined," said Jasper Teulings, senior legal counsel with Greenpeace International in Amsterdam.

Although this settlement has no bearing on the legal rights of the victims of this disaster, Greenpeace fears that the victims will now receive little, if any, support from their government in pursuing justice.