On 13 May Newsnight carried the Probo Koala story: I won’t repeat everything that was reported but here are the main points
Trafigura has always denied that the chemical waste was dangerous, but we have seen an analysis by the Dutch authorities which reveal it to be lethal.
Newsnight consulted a leading toxicologist, John Hoskins from the Royal Society of Chemistry. He said it would bring a major city to its knees. The waste includes tons of phenols which can cause death by contact, tons of hydrogen sulphide, lethal if inhaled in high concentrations and vast quantities of corrosive caustic soda and mercaptans which John Hoskins describes as "the most odorous compounds ever produced".
Reporters met Jean Francois Kouadio and his wife, Fidel. She had been eight months pregnant with their first child when the fumes swamped their home. Fidel gave birth prematurely and the boy, Jean Claude, died within a day. Their second child Ama Grace was born a year later. She too fell ill. The doctors said that Ama Grace "was suffering from acute glycaemia caused by the toxic wastes". They could do nothing for her and she died.
The medical reports state a "strong presumption" that the deaths of the two children were caused by exposure to the toxic waste and Jean Francois and Fidel now fear they will never become parents.
The reporters also visited the village of Djibi, just outside Abidjan. The head of Djibi, Esaie Modto, told us that every last person there fell ill, two thousand people: "There were women who miscarried, and that was very painful. But still, the worst was that three people, two adults and a girl were killed by the toxic wastes. That was very hard."
When Newsnight first investigated the toxic dumping scandal in 2007 one of Trafigura's founders Eric de Turckheim told Jeremy Paxman "these materials were not dangerous for human beings. It was smelly, but not dangerous."
The BBC also carried a statement from Trafigura date also 13 April, I won’t repeat statements available in other posts but here Trafigura stated categorically:
- The Probo Koala's slops were a mixture of gasoline, water and caustic soda. According to analyses that Trafigura has seen, it is not possible that the content of the slops could have led to the deaths and widespread injuries which are alleged to have been caused by them. This is supported by independent expert evidence which Trafigura will present in the English High Court in autumn 2009.
- Trafigura's own investigations did reveal that people living in the village of Akouedo (one of the places where the Probo Koala's slops were dumped by Compagnie Tommy) have suffered significant long-term health issues caused by over 40 years of commercial and domestic waste dumping. However, it does not know and will not speculate publicly as to where this waste originated.
- Trafigura has always said that the appropriate place for this case to be heard is in court and we are not prepared to engage in a trial by media. Whilst we refute your allegations, in the light of the impending court hearing, Trafigura does not feel it is appropriate to deal with these matters via the media. We will demonstrate the strength of our case when the trial commences in the autumn."
- Trafigura Limited has today issued proceedings for libel against the BBC in the High Court in London. The action relates to a broadcast on the Newsnight programme on 13 May 2009 and three related stories on the BBC website, concerning the Probo Koala, a Trafigura-chartered vessel which discharged slops in Côte d’Ivoire in August 2006.
- However, the BBC’s one-sided reports on 13 May were wildly inaccurate and libellous, leaving us with no choice but to take legal action. There was no justification or public interest in the BBC misleading its viewers in this way.
- Trafigura has always denied that the slops caused the deaths and serious health consequences presented by the BBC – a position fully supported by independent expert evidence which will be presented to the Court in due course.
Once again we saw a high powered company using our ridiculous libel laws to suppress valid public interest stories. We saw it with Schillings and their counterproductive attempts to muzzle Craig Murray and Tim Ireland over Alisher Usmanov’s decidedly murky past. Trafigura used Carter-Ruck and the PR firm Bell Pottinger to stifle a vital news story.
The key contacts in the above release were Adam Tudor (Carter-Ruck) and Neil Cameron (Bell Pottinger). I wonder how they feel about the recent press reports which make it clear that Trafigura were lying all along. If I were either one of them I would feel pretty uncomfortable about dealing any further with the company. But then I am not an amoral shit who has no problem in taking on tainted cash.