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Ivory Coast Government Panel Releases Toxic Waste Findings

A government commission investigating the dumping of tons of toxic waste in Ivory Coast in August has released its findings. The report levels widespread charges of responsibility against local and government officials, as well as the foreign company involved in the scandal. Joe Bavier is in Abidjan and has more for VOA.

The report, officially handed over to Ivory Coast Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny late Wednesday, is the result of more than two months of investigations by a government-appointed panel into the country's worst ever environmental disaster.

Ten people died of illnesses believed linked to the dumping of several hundred tons of dangerous chemicals in the commercial capital, Abidjan, in August. And more than 100,000 city residents sought medical treatment.

The report, read by the commission's president, Fatoumata Diakite, highlights the role of Trafigura Beheer BV, the Netherlands-based commodities trading company responsible for sending the waste to Ivory Coast.

It says Trafigura executives shipped the dangerous chemicals to Abidjan knowing the country possessed no facilities capable of treating the waste.

The panel also shed light on the company directly responsible for dumping the waste. Companie Tommy, as the Ivorian firm is known, shows all the signs of being front company set up specifically to handle the Trafigura waste, the commission found.

The report says the company was established in a period between Trafigura's decision not to pay for expensive waste disposal in Amsterdam and its ship's arrival in Abidjan.

The panel noted that Tommy charged 16 times less than estimates Trafigura received at the port of Amsterdam.

But responsibility for the tragedy, the report says, is shared by Abidjan port and customs officials, the ministries of transportation and the environment, and local authorities. The panel noted holes in environmental regulations, widespread failures to properly implement controls, and corruption all contributed to allowing the illegal dumping to take place.

Prime Minister Banny, after listening to the two-hour reading of the report, said Ivory Coast must break with its image as a country of impunity and learn the lessons of the toxic waste scandal.

The commission has no legal authority to punish those found responsible in the affair.

However, a criminal investigation ordered by the justice ministry is currently under way. And a number of individuals believed linked to the case, including two Trafigura executives, are currently being held in custody in Abidjan.