Trafigura finalizes Ivory Coast toxic waste payout

LONDON Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:50pm EDT

Related Topics

LONDON (Reuters) - Commodities trading firm Trafigura finalized a pre-trial settlement on Wednesday to put an end to a class-action suit accusing the company of causing illness by dumping toxic waste in Ivory Coast.

Trafigura, one of the world's leading oil and metals traders, and lawyers for 31,000 residents of the Ivory Coast listed in the claim agreed the settlement on Sunday and it was finalized before a judge in Britain's High Court on Wednesday.

A trial scheduled for October 1 will not now go ahead.

Details of the settlement were not disclosed in court, with both parties bound by a confidentiality agreement.

Trafigura denies any wrongdoing and has said the settlement is not an admission of responsibility, a position its lawyers reiterated in court on Wednesday.

The case involved the dumping of toxic oil residue in a dozen sites around Abidjan, Ivory Coast's main city, in August and September 2006 by a company hired by Trafigura to dispose of the waste.

Shortly after the material was dumped, thousands of residents of the city complained of illnesses, including breathing problems, skin irritation and related ailments.

The government of Ivory Coast said 16 people died. The judge on Wednesday made it clear there was no evidence the waste had caused anything more than "flu-like symptoms" and said some media had been irresponsible in their reporting.

Denis Pipira Yao, president of the Ivorian National Federation of Victims of Toxic Waste, said the group felt "let down" by the settlement and had hoped the case would go to trial in London.

"This is bad," he said. "The London court should have opened the trial so we get more clarity on the issue.

"We will not give up. We will go after Trafigura. We are ready to go to Amsterdam for a trial. There are lots of human rights organizations that are ready to help us."

Trafigura's lawyers argued that the company that dumped the waste did so independently and without authority from Trafigura.

Both parties agreed on Wednesday the settlement terms were fair and lawyers said a large proportion of the 31,000 claimants in Ivory Coast had already accepted the agreement.

A libel suit filed by Trafigura's lawyers against Leigh Day, the solicitors representing the claimants, was also resolved as part of the settlement, with Leigh Day removing content on its website alleging the toxic waste had caused deaths.

Trafigura agreed a $198 million out-of-court settlement with the Ivory Coast government in 2007 which exempted it from legal proceedings in the West African country.

(Reporting by Luke Baker in London and Loucoumane Coulibaly in Abidjan; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

FILED UNDER: