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Court victory associated with 3000 asbestos-related deaths in Italy

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An Italian court has sentenced a Swiss billionaire and a Belgian baron to 16 years in jail for their links to some 3000 asbestos-related deaths in Italy's industrial heartland.

The trial, which began in 2009 after a five-year investigation, was the biggest of its kind against a multinational for asbestos-related deaths and could set an international precedent for safety in the workplace.

The judge in the case found 64 year old Stephan Schmidheiny, the former owner of a company making Eternit fibre cement, and its major shareholder Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, now 90, guilty on Monday in Turin.

Simon Millman, specialist asbestos lawyer with Slater and Gordon, said the decision sends a chilling message.

“These two elderly men were directly involved in causing an environmental disaster and failing to follow safety regulations as they spent years producing and making a fortune out of deadly fibre cement,” Mr Millman said.

“And despite the company failing in the mid-1980’s the deadly legacy of the product it produced will long out live the former owners of the company,” he said.

Schmidheiny and De Cartier were ordered to pay 30,000 Euros in damages to relatives of people killed and 35,000 Euros for every sick person, as well as other payouts expected to total tens of millions of Euros.

According to reports, prosecutors said the lack of safety measures led to the deaths of thousands of people, mostly from cancer triggered by contact with asbestos, and thousands of other cases of chronic pulmonary disease, tumours and other illnesses over the past four decades.