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Almost 50 indicted in Ilva 'disaster' case

Almost 50 indicted in Ilva 'disaster' case
(ANSA) - Taranto, July 23 - Almost 50 people were indicted Thursday in a case of alleged "environmental disaster" at the troubled Ilva steel works in Taranto. Among the 44 people sent to trial along with three companies was former Puglia governor Nichi Vendola, accused of leaning on a regional environment agency head for softer reports on the toxicity of emissions from Europe's biggest steel works. Members of the Riva family that formerly owned the Ilva steelworks are also among those set to stand trial, along with politicians and current and former administrative officials. Former CEO Fabio Riva, the only defendant imprisoned in the case after his arrest in June, will stand trial along with his brother Nicola. The politicians involved, aside from Vendola, include former councillor for youth policies, Nicola Fratoianni, and a regional councillor for Premier Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party, Donato Pentassuglia, who are both accused of facilitating crimes. The ex-president of the province of Taranto Giovanni Florido and the former environmental councillor of the province Michele Conserva are also implicated. Other names among the accused are of former Ilva managers and plant directors, as well as former town prefects, a lawyer for Ilva and ministerial workers who were involved in releasing environmental permits for the plant. Left, Ecology and Freedom (SEL) party chief Vendola denied the charges, saying the indictment against him is "an unbearable injury" that he will face "with a clean conscience". Vendola is accused of aggravated abuse of office for allegedly pressuring the head of the regional environmental protection agency Arpa, Giorgio Assennato, to tone down reports on the toxic effects of emissions from Ilva.
Assennato has also been indicted, for alleged aiding and abetting.
"The accusation against me is an unbearable injury, which erases historical truth," he said.
"I have represented the first and the only lawmaking class that has defied Ilva's omnipotence and that has produced vanguard regional laws to combat environmental pollution in Taranto," Vendola said. "I have represented the kind of politics that hasn't taken bribes and hasn't bowed, in a territory colonized by the Riva family (owners of Ilva)," he continued. "I have represented the first and the only institution that has placed (Ilva plant) under (emissions) monitoring, generating the pollution data that has allowed the judiciary to build a case against Ilva - which had been polluting for the 50 years that preceded my government, during which no authority thought to do anything about it". Vendola, who has frequently denounced polluting conditions at the works but has also underscored its importance as the city's largest employer, went on to say that his only fault was having tried to strike a balance between public health and the rights of Ilva workers to keep their jobs. "Today is a day of bitterness and disappointment - but I go to to trial with the clean conscience of one who knows he has always worked for the common good," the ex-governor concluded. Vendola ended by saying he is very glad former regional council member for the environment Lorenzo Nicastro was acquitted. "The accusation against him were an offence to his history as a man and a magistrate," the SEL leader said. Meanwhile Ilva special commissioner Piero Gnudi told a Lower House hearing Thursday that environmental cleanup at the troubled steel works and restoring it to health and productivity is "a reachable objective". Gnudi also said one of the steelmaker's furnaces may have to shut down after a worker was killed there by a blast of molten metal last month. "We are trying to avert the closure but the problem exists," Gnudi said. A prosecutor at the end of June rejected a request by Ilva to unseal the furnace in which the 35-year-old worker was killed.
Italy in March passed a so-called save-Ilva decree allowing the cash-strapped steel manufacturer to get 400 million euros in State-backed loans from the national government's Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP). The cabinet also approved a 260-million euro bridge loan. Extraordinary commissioners are now managing Ilva as the troubled plant goes through a massive environmental cleanup and financial turnaround project. The Ilva decree says that 80% of the requirements must be met by August 2015, with the remaining 20% to be fulfilled by August 2016. Gnudi reported Thursday that the cleanup process is "well over 80% complete, so it is an objective that can be reached".
"We don't want to save an insolvent company but one that can be efficient, create wealth and maintain jobs," Gnudi told the House environmental and industry committees.
"Ilva can generate significant earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) once it returns to full operational capacity, in 2017". A court in January declared Ilva insolvent, with debt totaling nearly three billion euros.
This came one week after the industry ministry named former power and environmental executives Gnudi, Enrico Laghi and Corrado Carrubba as extraordinary commissioners. Ilva has employed some 20,000 people and been blamed for decades of environmental degradation and high levels of cancer in the area.

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