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Victims of toxic waste in despair at Court ruling

Ivory Coast Court of Appeal orders transfer of compensation monies

Photo: istock

22 January 2010

This morning the Court of Appeal in Abidjan ordered that the compensation monies held in the Leigh Day account at the SGBCI bank be transferred to the account of Mr Claude Gouhourou. The 30,000 victims who were due to receive their compensation are now beside themselves with worry that they will not receive the compensation they were entitled to under the terms of the settlement reached with Trafigura in September of last year.

In September 2009 Trafigura reached agreement with Leigh Day regarding the settlement of the claims and paid the agreed compensation into Leigh Day's SGBCI account. Leigh Day worked out a system for the payment of each claimant through the use of a payment card to be used at the bank's ATM machines in Abidjan. The PIN numbers for the cards were given out in October but just as this process was coming to an end and before the cards could be distributed Leigh Day and the bank were served with a freezing order on the account. The order had been obtained by Mr Gouhourou. He was one of the fifty or so representatives of the many communities in Abidjan affected by the toxic waste. In his evidence he stated that he and the other representatives had set up a coordinating association of which he was the president and that this association had the responsibility for distributing the compensation monies.

The documents provided by Mr Gouhourou to prove his case have been shown since this time to be false. The other representatives all deny the existence of any such association, the representatives who supposedly signed the association’s inauguration papers deny the signatures were theirs, and the town hall where the association was supposedly registered deny this occurred and their stamp was forged. Leigh Day have lodged criminal allegations with the Ivorian prosecuting authorities in relation to these actions.

Over the past three months the case has been through the lower court and now through the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal had told the lawyers acting for Leigh Day that today's hearing would be simply to obtain the views on the State Prosecutor. However, this morning they were told the Court had already come to its decision.

Over 20,000 claimants signed a petition calling for Leigh Day to have responsibility for the payments. Mr Justice MacDuff gave a ruling in October 2009 that Leigh Day should have responsibility for finalising the payments. Amnesty called for the same. All for nought.

It is understood that standing behind Mr Gouhourou is a 'Mr Big'. It would appear that as far as the Court of Appeal is concerned he has won the day.

Leigh Day's lawyers are immediately looking to lodge an appeal but there is every concern that Mr Gouhourou will try and have the money transferred before that happens.

Martyn Day, senior partner at Leigh Day said today:-

'In 30 years of practice I cannot remember a more depressing Court decision. 30,000 Ivoirians have been looking to get the compensation due to them to alleviate their lives. Now there is a very real chance they will not see a penny. We have been concerned about the level of influence of Mr Big and today's decision would suggest it is very great indeed. We have and will continue to leave no stone unturned in this battle with corruption to try and ensure our clients receive the justice we have fought for over the last three years. However, today's judgment makes the prospect of our clients receiving their compensation look somewhat remote.'


For more information please contact Martyn Day on 07876 746 561.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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