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Côte d'Ivoire

Two 20-year jail sentences in pollution case

Article published on the 2008-10-23 Latest update 2008-10-23 15:53 TU

The Probo Koala.(Photo: AFP)

The Probo Koala.
(Photo: AFP)

A court in Côte d'Ivoire has sentenced two people to 20 years each in jail for the dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan, leading to 17 deaths. Crew of the Panamanian-registered cargo ship, Probo Koala, dumped over 500 cubic metres of toxic waste in the Ivorian capital in 2006.

Thousands were poisoned when the cargo vessel dumped the ship's waste - a lethal mixture of petroleum residues, sulphur and caustic soda - in public sites throughout the city. The case dates from August 2006.

After three hours of deliberation, the court handed down a prison sentence of 20 years to Salomon Ugborugbo, a Nigerian citizen who was head of the company which dealt with the waste from the Probo Koala.

Attorney-General Damou Kouyate had requested a life sentence for Ugborugbo.

Essoin Kouao, who worked at the port of Abidjan, had recommended Ugborugbo's company, Tommy, to the ship's charterer. He was sentenced to five years for complicity in poisoning, also escaping a life sentence. Tommy had no capability for dealing with the waste and simply dumped it in Abidjan.

Kouyate said that the two men were motivated by "a wild quest for money" to set up a "fatal deal."

RFI's correspondent in Abidjan, Norbert Navarro says that the lenient sentences shocked many.

"One only had to hear the explosion of joy in the courtroom to measure the relief and surprise which greeted the acquittals...The verdict is also relatively lenient for those who were actually sentenced, when one takes into account that the main defendant risked a life sentence."

Lawyers for the defence said that the accused did not know that the waste was dangerous.

Seven other people were acquitted in the case.

The Dutch company which chartered the ship settled with the Ivorian government last year for 152 million euros in return for indemnity against prosecution.