Swiss Billionaire Guilty of Asbestos Deaths


A Swiss billionaire industrialist had his jail sentence extended to eighteen years after being convicted for his part in Italy’s biggest asbestos scandal. Stephan Schmidheiny was guilty of negligence to more than 2,000 asbestos-related deaths. He was forced to pay millions of Euros in damages to local authorities and victims and their families.

Schmidheiny was the owner of a Swiss building material maker called Eternit and was found guilty in February 2012. Originally, his sentence was sixteen years in prison. He was not immediately sent to jail since prison sentences in Italy are often not enforced until the appeals processes, which sometimes can take up to years.

Charges were dropped against Belgian Eternit shareholder and former company executive Jean Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, who passed away on May 21 at the age of 91.

Prosecutors said Schmidheiny failed to install safety measures to prevent workers’ health affected by asbestos at Eternit’s Italian plants. The plant closed in 1986.

More than 6,000 people – including employees and residents-are seeking compensation for the damages. The lack of safety measures led to more than 2,000 deaths, mostly from asbestos-related diseases, and thousands of other cases of tumors and illnesses over the past four decades.

The court awarded 20 million Euros to the Piedmont region and 31 million Euros to the Casale Monferrato townhall, where Eternit had its main Italian plant.

Asbestos is still being used in developing countries as insulation for buildings. The inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma -an incurable cancer-and other asbestos-related diseases. Symptoms do not appear until twenty to fifty years later.

If you or a loved one has been affected by asbestos or have a case involving wrongful death, contact Brayton Purcell to discover what your legal rights are. We are committed to providing our clients with excellent representation and service, upholding to the highest ethical standards.

Source: Aloisi, Silvia. “Swiss Billionaire Gets 18 Years Jail for Italian Asbestos Deaths.”, 3 June 2013. Web. 13 June 2013. <>.

Photo credit: Jacopo Werther