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19 April 2011

ThyssenKrupp executive convicted of murder for Italy plant fire

A Turin court has sent shockwaves through Italy’s business community by making legal history in convicting a German executive of ThyssenKrupp on charges of manslaughter.

At the end of one of Italy’s most watched trials on Friday, Harald Espenhahn, chief executive of the German steelmaker at its Turin plant, was sentenced to 16½ years in prison on charges of “second degree murder”, over the deaths of seven workers in an industrial accident at its steel plant in northern Italy.

Four other managers received prison terms of 13½ years for complicity, and a fifth was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months.

ThyssenKrupp was also ordered to pay €21m in compensation, fines and legal costs, and barred from receiving public subsidies for six months.

The prosecution argued that the plant’s managers had deliberately sacrificed security for cost-savings ahead of the planned closure of the plant, knowing that an accident was possible. The seven workers died in a blaze that broke out in its Turin plant in December 2007.

The Essen-based steelmaker, which described the verdicts as "incomprehensible", is appealing. It reiterated its commitment to ensuring the safety of its workers and said such a tragedy should not be allowed to happen again.

Although Italy has improved its record on industrial accidents over the past decade, its fatality rate remains the worst among major industrial countries in Europe. Courts had been criticised in the past by trade unions of taking too lenient an attitude towards employers.

Sources: Financial Times, Bloomberg
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