Bloggers broke an unprecedented legal attempt to stop the Guardian from reporting on British Parliament's discussion of a case where the oil trading firm Trafigura intentionally dumped highly toxic waste in Africa, killing at least 16 people and injuring 31,000. Trafigura settled the case to try to prevent the release of highly damaging documents that showed the direct involvement of top corporate executives in the decisions that led to the deadly dumping.
The law firm Carter-Ruck which used intimidation tactics to try to censor Parliament (and previously the BBC) has now been reported to the UK Law society for investigation.
Greenpeace Netherlands continues to press for manslaughter charges against the executives responsible for the deadly toxic waste dumping.
Child injured by fumes from the dumped toxic waste.
Investigative bloggers pwn3d law firm Carter-Ruck in 42 minutes. A Reccomended DailyKos diary was part of the successful campaign.
Untroubled by the legal restrictions which had confined the Guardian to reporting at 8.31pm that it had been "prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found", internet users quickly reported that the gag related to a question by the Labour MP Paul Farrelly concerning the reporting of an incident in which toxic waste was dumped in the Ivory Coast.
Farrelly wanted to know which measures ministers had taken to protect whistleblowers and press freedom following an injunction obtained by the oil company Trafigura and its firm of solicitors, Carter Ruck, against the publication of a report into the matter.
After several requests on Monday afternoon from the Guardian's lawyers asking Carter Ruck to alter the terms of the injunction and thereby allow publication of Farrelly's question, the gag remained in place.
But just 42 minutes after the Guardian story was published, the internet had revealed what the paper could not.
Now the exposure from this case is blowing back on Carter-Ruck and Trafigura. Said politely, members of Parliament were not impressed by the attempted censorship.
The law firm at the centre of the an unprecedented attempt by a British oil trading firm to prevent the Guardian reporting parliamentary proceedings is to be reported to the Law Society, it emerged today.
Carter-Ruck was accused of infringing the supremacy of parliament yesterday after it insisted that an injunction obtained against the Guardian prevented the paper from reporting a question tabled on Monday by the Labour MP Paul Farrelly.
But numerous users of the social networking site Twitter posted details of Farrelly's question and by yesterday morning, the full text had been published on two prominent blogs as well as in the magazine Private Eye
Apparently, Trafigura was attempting to bury a damning consultant's reportwhich had been released by a whistleblower. Trafigura executives directed the dumping of highly toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, where they could get away with it, to increase profits. They knew before hand that the waste contained highly toxic material.
3.4 Alkyl mercaptans (Thiols) are flammable liquids (ethyl-, propyl-) or gas (methyl). They are present in coker naphtha at around 2000ppm. Their toxicity increases with decreasing carbon chain length. Exposure to methyl or ethyl mercaptan can lead to a cough, headaches, nausea and breathing difficulties. All have a strong unpleasant odour. Occupational exposure limits are around 0.5ppm in air. Contact with acid will lead to hydrogen sulphide production.
3.5 Sodium alkyl mercaptides (sodium alkanethiolate, RSNa) are flammable solids that are soluble in water. They are the product of the reaction between mercaptans and sodium hydroxide. As with the mercaptans, toxicity increases with decreasing carbon chain length. Sodium methyl mercaptide (CH3SNa) is harmful by ingestion and inhalation, corrosive and toxic. Contact with skin can lead to permanent ulceration.
3.6 Sodium hydrosulphide (NaHS) is the product of the reaction between hydrogen sulphide and sodium hydroxide. It is harmful, toxic inhalation and ingestion and can lead to production of H2S gas. It will cause skin ulceration and possible corneal damage.
3.7 Sodium sulphide (Na2S) is a by-product of the reaction. It is soluble in water and is corrosive and harmful. Inhalation of mist may lead to lung damage. Contact with acid will produce H2S gas.
3.8 Dialkyl disulphides (RSSR) are the product of equation 2. They are not soluble in water. Dimethyl disulphide is flammable and is judged to be very toxic to humans and dangerous to the environment.
3.9 Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) is a corrosive gas. It is highly toxic. At low concentrations the gas has a strong unpleasant odour. UK Occupational Health guidelines allow exposure to 5ppm for 8 hours or 1Oppm for 15 minutes. Between 20 and 100ppm the ability to smell the gas is lost. Negative health effects, such as eye irritation may be observed from as low as 20ppm. Prolonged exposure at these low levels may result in pharyngitis and bronchitis. Between 250 and 500ppm, pulmonary oedema
may occur. Above these levels, other effects may occur such as vomiting, breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness and death. A single breath of 1000ppm concentration in air may be sufficient to induce
a coma and death.
Internal Trafigura documents given to the Guardian by a whistleblower show that Trafigura had a scheme to profit from buying cheap Mexican high sulfur naptha, then crudely process it with lye - sodium hydroxide - to remove the toxic, highly malodorous, mercaptans. The "washed" naptha could then be sold at a much higher price as unleaded regular. There were but 3 problems with this scheme.
- The process was very corrosive to tankers.
- Developed nations had regulations against dumping the waste.
- The waste is highly toxic and volatile so it can not be dumped safely.
The internal documents give the sordid details of how Trafigura schemed to profit by avoiding developed world regulations and dumping deadly toxic waste in Africa. The e-mails and memos begin in late 2005. The scheme begins with e-mails to locate needed chemicals and a junk tanker to process the sulfurous naptha.
After months of planning the high sulfur naptha is successfully turned into unleaded regular and toxic waste. The schemers immediately try to cover up the existence of the waste.
On 3 July 2006, management cancels a plan to dispose of the waste safely because it is expensive.
In August, Dutch regulators start asking questions about the proper disposal of the waste. The waste laden tanker is in Nigerian waters but management is concerned that dumping it there might cause Trafigura problems.
"CD" Claude Dauphin, the CEO of Trafigura, nixes plans to dispose of the waste in Nigeria.
Dauphin decided to dump it in the Ivory Coast in a way that won't be traced back to Trafigura.
The waste got transferred to locals in Abidjan, Ivory Coast for dumping. They had no facilities for processing the waste, just trucks to dump it.
A company in Abidjan, the capital of Côte d'Ivoire, agreed to process the waste. Once the chemical waste had been delivered, however, the company illegally dumped it on open rubbish tips, in sewers and lagoons all over Abidjan. The fumes and leakages from the black sludge caused hundreds of thousands of Ivorians to become ill, and in the end 16 people died.
Trafigura is attempting to use the private settlement of 1,000 Euros for each of the 31,000 injured people as a means of preventing the release of further documents. So far small time operators involved in the dumping in the Ivory Coast have been arrested, tried and found guilty, but Trafigura management has gotten off Scott free. Netherlands Greenpeace is pressing for prosecution on manslaughter charges.
The environmental group Greenpeace argues that the company has escaped justice - and wants to bring a criminal case in The Netherlands where Trafigura has its main office, accusing the company of manslaughter and grievous bodily harm for the affects the toxic sludge had on the inhabitants of Ivory Coast.
Marietta Harjono, a campaigner for Greenpeace in the Netherlands, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that the out of court settlement did little to exonerate Trafigura.
"So far we have not seen any convincing evidence that they are innocent. On the contrary. We know now from many documents, including internal emails and also from their own Minton report that they knew the chemical processes on the Probo Koala would be very toxic. They knew it was very difficult to get this properly processed and that it was forbidden to send it to Africa....this is all blamable and illegal under Dutch law. We think that the Dutch Public Prosecution can start a criminal prosecution against Trafigura for intentional pollution of the environment."
The attempt to censor the Guardian's reporting of parliament has backfired. Legal bullying tactics used by aggressive British law firms have been used to hide corporate malfeasance and crime. The Guardian has been enjoined 12 times from even mentioning that they have been gagged. The internet furor over this case is pressuring Parliament to change the law that allows government censorship of the reporting of corporate crimes.
Libel lawyers Carter-Ruck and Schillings have proved adept at persuading judges that injunctions should now be granted on privacy grounds. Some tabloid newspapers are being served with "a handful" of such orders each week, according to media lawyers. The Guardian has been served with at least 12 notices of injunctions that could not be reported so far this year, compared with six in the whole of 2006 and five the year before.
The motivation is straightforward, according to Mark Stephens, a partner at law firm Finer Stephens Innocent. "As the libel and privacy capital of the world, people are coming here [to London] to bully the media and NGOs into not reporting on their nefarious activities," he said.
The right to report what takes place in parliament has been enshrined in law for centuries and Trafigura's refusal to allow the Guardian to publish the contents of Paul Farrelly's question caused an outcry, fanned in large part on the internet.
This is a victory by reporters and bloggers over corporate criminals and their legal enablers. Now the corporate criminals must be brought to justice.