Attorney General Francesco Saluzzo said he remains confident that two top managers of the German steel giant ThyssenKrupp AG will serve at least five years for aggravated negligent manslaughter relating to a 2007 fire at a Turin, Italy, plant that killed seven.
“On January 23, 2020, the High Court of Hamm (Germany) rejected the appeal lodged by (Harald) Espenhahn and (Gerald) Priegnitz against the February 2019 decisions of the … Essen court who had recognized the effectiveness of the judgement of the Assize Court of Turin in 2015,” Saluzzo said.
The Essen court had previously declared the Italian convictions enforceable in Germany under European Union law. However, the sentence has long been a matter of controversy.
Shortly after midnight on December 6, 2007, a fire broke out on the annealing and pickling line of the ThyssenKrupp’s plant in Turin. The eight workers on duty attempted extinguish the small pool fire with fire extinguishers and a fire hose without success.
A ruptured hydraulic line suddenly dumped 400 liters of flammable fluid that instantly ignited, engulfing the workers in intense flames. Only one of the workers survived.
In the court case that followed the prosecution established that fire protection had been allowed to deteriorate because the plant was slated for closure. Based on that, the state prosecutor in Turin charged ThyssenKrupp CEO Espenhahn with “voluntary multiple murder with eventual malice.” The five other managers named were charged with “culpable murder with conscious guilt.”
In April 2011, Espenhahn and the others were pronounced guilty on all charges. Facing 16½ years in prison, Espenhahn left Italy before the trial and is now believed to live in Brazil.
Nearly two years later an appellate court again reduced Espenhahn’s and the other managers sentences, ruling that the managers had not been deliberately negligent to cutting back on emergency service available at the plant. In 2016, the court further reduced the sentences. If the sentence is served in Italy, Espenhahn faces more than nine years, while the others would each serve between six and seven years.
However, EU law allows the convicted to serve their sentence in their country of origin. With the intervening court action, the defendants now stand convicted of aggravated negligent manslaughter. The maximum allowable sentence on that charge in Germany is five years, further reducing the penalty for Espenhahn and Priegnitz.
Four Italian managers for ThyssenKrupp are already serving sentences for convictions in the case. The company has paid more than $14 million in compensation.
Antonio Boccuzzi, the surviving worker from the Turin fire, later became a deputy in the Italian parliament.