Italian firm denies Somali waste deal


Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 11 September 1992


A FORMER Libyan-based Italian businessman last night denied that he was involved in planning the illegal export and dumping of toxic industrial waste in Somalia. However, he admitted that he had witnessed the signing of an agreement that would allow 10 million tonnes of waste to be dumped over the next 20 years.

Allegations that an Italian company called Progresso, operating through the Swiss-based front company to circumvent Italian laws banning the export of industrial waste, were made this week by officials of the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme.

The contract for waste dumping reveals provisions for industrial “special” and “toxic” waste, as well as “special” hospital waste to be “treated, incinerated and disposed of” near the Somali capital, Mogadishu. A total of 500,000 tonnes of waste may be treated every year, with as much as 10 million tonnes being disposed of in landfills over 20 years.

Italy is the only country in Europe to have banned the export of waste to countries outside the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, as a way of ending dumping in the Third World. Article 39 of the fourth Lomé Convention, to which Italy is a signatory, also bans the export of waste from the European Community to Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Yesterday Greenpeace in Rome claimed that Progresso, based in Livorno, was the company behind the arrangement. Progresso’s managing director, Marcello Giannoni, yesterday admitted that he had witnessed the signing of the deal, but said that Progresso was not involved.

Mr Giannoni, who said he had lived in Libya for 30 years, where he had worked as a shipping agent, told the Guardian that he was present at the signing of a letter of intent for the dumping agreement at the Claridge hotel in Rome on October 17, 1991. The letter was addressed to a Swiss businessman and signed byNur Elmy Osman, who says he is the Somali minister of health in the government of Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

Mr All Mahdi is one of Somalia’s numerous faction leaders, and controls part of the capital Mogadishu as well as areas to the north of the city.

Yesterday he issued a statement saying that Dr Osman was not a member of his government. He also said that he had no knowledge of waste dumping in the territory under his control.

The letter of intent was followed on December 5 by the signing of a contract between a Swiss company based in Lausanne and Dr Osman.

Unep officials said that the companies involved would expect to make up to $80 million from the deal, though they have provided no evidence to that effect. The final contract does not specify how much money is at stake. This has raised suspicions among environmentalists who monitor the dumping of waste.

Stefan Weber, a Greenpeace official in Switzerland, cited examples of Italian waste dumping ships being used to carry weapons supplies secretly to African countries that were experiencing upheavals. “This is what makes us think this is a mafia company. In this case it is a small import-export company in Switzerland,” he said.

Mr Giannoni said he only became involved in the deal when he was contacted by a Swiss-based broker who had been called in to negotiate a promissory note that would give Mr Hoffer a land concession in Somalia where the waste was to be dumped.

In return, Mr Ali Mahdi’s government would be provided with medicines worth $13 million. But Mr Hoffer failed to advance the money and the Somali government called off the deal. Mr Giannoni said: Not one kilo of waste has gone to Somalia.”

© Guardian Newspapers Limited