Image: Ivory Coast environmental pollution
Legnan Koula  /  EPA
A woman from Ivory Coast shows the scarsof disfigurement from  exposure to the dumping of toxic waste in 2006.
updated 10/23/2008 3:10:32 PM ET 2008-10-23T19:10:32

An Ivory Coast court jailed a Nigerian man for 20 years for the 2006 dumping of hundreds of tons of toxic waste from an international oil trader that killed at least 16 people and left more than 100,000 needing treatment.

Salomon Ugborugbo, 39, owned a local company whose trucks collected the eye-stinging waste offloaded from the Dutch-based company's ship and dumped it at 17 sites in the main city, Abidjan.

Thousands fled the sites, which included areas next to homes and a huge garbage dump. French clean-up crews could only approach with gas-masks.

Ugborugbo was convicted on a charge of poisoning and sentenced late Wednesday. An Ivorian shipping agent, Essouin Koua Desire, was convicted of complicity in poisoning and sentenced to five years in jail. The court said Desire played a key role in Ugborugbo's local company Tommy securing the $20,000 waste disposal contract.

Five customs officials, the Abidjan port's military commander and its maritime director were acquitted.

An official government investigation named Ugborugbo as the "principal" actor behind the tragedy but defense lawyer Charles Mentennon criticized the decision not to put officials from Dutch-based Trafigura on trial. Many Ivorians blame Trafigura for the tragedy.

Image: Toxic waste in containers
Schalk Van Zuydam  /  AP
Toxic waste dumped outside Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 2006 was later dug up and placed in these and other containers.
Trafigura paid the Ivorian government $197 million last year in part to help clean up the waste but maintains it was not liable for the incident.

Soon after the payment, three Trafigura officials were freed from prison, but Trafigura says they were only released because under Ivorian law they could not be held more than six months without being charged.

Critics allege Trafigura hired Tommy to save money. The ship had previously stopped in the Netherlands where officials would have charged 16 times more for the work.

Government investigators say Tommy was set up solely for the dumping operation and did not have the technical ability to do it properly.

Trafigura maintains the waste was not toxic, but was a mix of gasoline residues, water and caustic sodas used for cleaning. U.N. experts, however, say the waste contained hydrogen sulfide, which in concentrated doses can kill humans.

Defense lawyer Charles Kignima called verdict against Ugborugbo "unjust."

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