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Billionaire faces decades-old asbestos charges

A Swiss former owner of asbestos factories is facing charges in Italy flickr/degra

Hundreds of people packed a Turin courtroom on Monday to hear preliminary proceedings against Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny and a Belgian baron.

Schmidheiny, 66 years old, and Jean-Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, 88, face legal action over sicknesses and deaths connected to four asbestos factories they owned. They have been charged with intentionally causing injury.

Prosecutors in the northern Italian city mounted the action on behalf of more than 2,600 former employees and close to 300 local residents alleged to have been affected by the toxic natural substance.

They say that the company, S.p.A Genoa, knew that asbestos was dangerous and that it did not ventilate shops or provide proper protection to workers.

A judge must now decide whether proceedings will move forth. The two businessmen could face up to 13 years in prison, according to Sergio Bonetto, a lawyer for the victims.

On Monday, trade unionists joined hundreds of former employees from Italy, Switzerland, France and Belgium demanding the company “stop the massacre”.

A lawyer for Schmidheiny called for a fair trial. “We are convinced that the judge will make a balanced judgement and will not be affected by banners,” said Guido Carlo Alleva.

The St Gallen-born Schmidheiny became chief executive of Eternit, his family’s asbestos construction materials firm, in his late 20s. He later diversified his holdings, acted as a special advisor to the United Nations and now focuses on sustainable development. He lives in Costa Rica.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR