Billionaire faces jail term for asbestos negligence

A billionaire Swiss industrialist convicted for his part in Italy’s biggest asbestos scandal had his jail sentence lengthened to 18 years Monday in a ruling campaigners said would set a precedent for work-safety lawsuits.

The billionaire, Stephan Schmidheiny, found guilty of negligence that led to more than 2,000 asbestos-related deaths, was also ordered to pay millions of euros in damages to local authorities, victims and their families by an appeals court in Turin.

The former owner of Swiss building material maker Eternit was found guilty in February last year and originally sentenced to 16 years in prison and ordered to pay other damages.

He was not immediately sent to jail. Prison sentences in Italy are often not enforced until appeals processes, which can take years, are exhausted.

The 65-year-old was not in court when the appeals judges rejected his appeal against the sentence and extended it on Monday.

A spokesman based in Zurich said the industrialist would now take his case to Italy’s top appeals court and dismissed the ruling as “scandalous” and “absurd”.

The Turin court also dropped charges against Belgian Eternit shareholder and former company executive Jean Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, who died on May 21 aged 91.

Prosecutors had said Schmidheiny intentionally failed to install measures to prevent workers’ health being affected by asbestos at Eternit’s Italian plants, which closed in 1986.

More than 6,000 people – including former employees and residents of the four towns where the plants were located – are seeking damages in the case.

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