From: Franz Wild, Associated Press
Published November 24, 2006 12:00 AM

Ivory Coast Report Blames Corrupt, Negligent Officials for Toxic Waste Scandal

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — A government commission investigating a deadly toxic waste scandal on Thursday blamed the tragedy on negligence and corruption by senior officials and an ill-equipped company set up solely to dump the waste.

Officials say 10 people died and more than 100,000 sought medical treatment after hundreds of tons of waste were offloaded in Abidjan on Aug. 19 from a vessel chartered by the Dutch commodities trading company Trafigura Beheer BV.

An Ivorian company called Tommy loaded the waste on special trucks and dumped it at 17 sites around the city, in some places just yards from homes, prompting whole neighborhoods to flee.

The Ivorian government set up a national commission to investigate the tragedy, and a report released Thursday blamed corruption and negligence among a host of government officials, including Cabinet ministers and port workers.

A separate judicial inquiry now under way has the power to bring to justice anyone accused of wrongdoing.

The report said Tommy was set up specifically for the waste dumping operation and singled out its jailed Nigerian owner and manager, Salomon Ugborugbo, for facilitating the tragedy.

"It is undeniable that Salomon Ugborugbo is the principle actor in the dumping of the toxic waste," the report said. Tommy accepted the waste, despite "neither having the know-how nor the technical means" to treat it.

The report said Trafigura was aware Tommy was dumping the waste rather than neutralizing it. Trafigura has said it believed Tommy had the facilities to dispose of the waste legally.

Tommy agreed to dispose of the waste for less than $20,000 -- 16 times cheaper than officials in the Netherlands were going to charge when the ship stopped there beforehand.

Trafigura officials say the ship was carrying a cargo of gasoline and stopped in Abidjan to dispose the content of the ship's waste tanks, known as "slops." Trafigura says the waste disposed in Abidjan was a mix of gasoline residues, water and caustic sodas used to clean slops.

U.N. experts, however, say the waste contained hydrogen sulfide, which in concentrated doses can kill people. Trafigura officials say it's a mystery how the hydrogen sulfide got there because caustic sodas typically used to clean slops cannot produce the toxic substance.

The report said former Transport Minister Kobena Anaky, who was pulled out of his car by an angry mob in September, granted Tommy a license to offload cargoes without assessing their capacity and ability to do so.

The report also accused Energy and Mines Minister Leon Monnet of failing to coordinate with health authorities prior to the waste's arrival and neglecting to take "environmental dimensions into account."

Other officials accused of flaunting regulations included a former environment minister, the maritime and port affairs director, a chief customs officer and Abidjan Gov. Pierre Djedji Amondji.

Two of Trafigura's executives are in Ivorian custody facing poisoning charges.

The waste is still being moved out of the country by a French company hired by the government.

Source: Associated Press

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