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International asbestos trial nears verdict

Two international businessmen will soon learn their fate after a long trial in which they defended against charged that they were responsible for more than 3,000 asbestos-related deaths. If convicted, the men will face up to 20 years in prison and may have to pay damages to more than 6,000 people who have joined in a civil asbestos lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in an industrial area of northern Italy, which is the home of a company that produced a fiber cement product called Eternit. The company continued to use asbestos in the production of its products until it went bankrupt in 1986, just six years before the harmful fibers were banned in Italy.

The plaintiffs are the former owner of the company that produced Eternit and one of the company's major shareholders. They are accused of continuing to operating until that time, despite learning of the risks associated with asbestos products more than 20 years earlier.

According to one local resident who lost his wife to an asbestos-related illness, the executives' actions were unconscionable. "We knew that the material was dangerous from the beginning of the 1960s, it's unbelievable that Eternit was in production until 1986," he said. "Nothing will bring my wife back. It's unjust that she died like thousands of other people because of delinquent murderers of the worst kind."

Defense lawyers for the executives have denied that they were responsible for the company. If they are convicted, they will likely serve more than the maximum 12-year sentence in order to set a precedent for future cases.

In addition, more than 6,000 people are seeking damages, making the case one of the biggest of its kind to be filed anywhere in the world.

Source: The Kuwait Times, "Verdict looms in world's biggest asbestos trial," Feb. 10, 2012

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