Mesothelioma, Tumors and 2,200 Dead are Focus at Asbestos Trials

TURIN, Italy, Dec. 11 (UPI) — The trial of two former executives of a Swiss building firm accused of negligence in 2,200 asbestos-related deaths moved into its second day in Italy Friday.

The two suspects, one a Swiss billionaire and the other a Belgian baron, are being tried in absentia in Turin. They are accused of causing an environmental disaster and failing to take proper safety measures at the cement giant Eternit.

Italian media are calling the case, in which nearly 3,000 people are seeking damages, the “trial of the century,” ANSA reported.

Eternit’s Swiss owner, Stephan Schmidheiny, 62, who has a defense team of 26 lawyers, and the former managing director, the Belgian baron Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, 88, deny any wrongdoing. If convicted they could each face 12 years in prison.

Thousands showed up for the trial’s beginning on Thursday with interest so high it required three courtrooms with hundreds of relatives and journalists watching on videolink.

Outside, demonstrators and relatives of victims who worked at Eternit plants in Europe held placards calling for justice.

Prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello told reporters asbestos dust in the air from roofs, streets and courtyards caused tumors among Eternit staff, their families and people living near the factories and has left around 800 seriously ill.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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