The criminal proceedings in Turin against the former heads of asbestos giant Eternit (as previously reported here) have taken a new turn. A civil case has been linked to the criminal trial and both the European Union (EU) and the Italian Government have been named as civil defendants. It has been reported that 4,000 people have asked to join the case as plaintiffs, and 3,000 people are due to give evidence. At a hearing at the end of January 2010, the judge heard evidence regarding the suitability of the parties as defendants. The Italian Government argued that it was Eternit's responsibility to protect its employees not the state. Counsel for the EU argued that the EU had issued appropriate directives and that any proceedings brought against the EU must be done so in the European Court of Justice. The judge has now adjourned the hearing until 8 February 2010.
The criminal proceedings against Stephan Schmidheiney (the owner of Eternit) and Baron Louis de Cartier de Marchienne (the former managing director of Eternit) were brought in relation to Eternit's activities at four Italian asbestos-cement plants. The accused are charged with creating an environmental hazard and wilfully disregarding safety regulations at those plants; actions which allegedly resulted in thousands of asbestos related deaths.