Rome: Prime Minister Matteo Renzi vowed on Thursday to change Italy's "nightmare" statute of limitation rules after the conviction of a Swiss billionaire related to nearly 3,000 asbestos deaths was overturned.
In a ruling greeted with fury by relatives of the victims, the Court of Cassation yesterday quashed the conviction and 18-year prison sentence given to tycoon Stephan Schmidheiny over inadequate safety provisions in asbestos-cement plants run by his now defunct group Eternit in Italy in the 1970s and 80s.
"If an episode like Eternit is not a crime or if it is a crime and subject to presciption then we have to change the rules of the game," Renzi said.
"We cannot have this nightmare of prescription. The demand for justice does not diminish with time. There is some pain that cannot be healed by time."
The court ruled that Schmidheiny, a scion of a Swiss industrial dynasty now regarded as a philanthrophist, should not have been convicted of causing a health or environmental catastrophe because the verdict came more than 12 years after the crime and was therefore subject to the statute of limitation applicable to the specific charges.
Raffaele Guariniello, the Turin prosecutor in charge of the case, said he would seek to have Schmidheiny retried for homicide.
"The Court of Cassation did not conclude in favour of absolution," he said. "The crime was committed, and it was committed with intent.
"This is not a moment of disappointment, it is a new start. We will not throw in the towel."
Three separate homicide cases have been opened in Turin, one related to Italian deaths from mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer, one related to the deaths of ex-workers at an asbestos mine near Turin and one into the deaths of Italians who worked in Eternit plants in Switzerland and Brazil.
The pursuit of Schmidheiny was the biggest case of its kind against a multinational over asbestos-related deaths.