Stephan Schmidheiny

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Stephan Ernest Schmidheiny is a Swiss billionaire; his net worth is estimated by Forbes to be $3 billion.[1] He's been involved in a trial for enviromental disaster and another for voluntary manslaughter, both connected to the employ of asbestos in the factories of his company Eternit.


Stephan Ernest Schmidheiny was born in Balgach, St. Gallen, Switzerland, on October 29, 1947 as a fourth generation member of the most important industrial dynasty in Switzerland and completed his Law studies with a doctorate at the University of Zurich in 1972. He started his business career at Eternit Niederurnen he had inherited and in 1976 he was named CEO of the Swiss Eternit Group. According to his brother Thomas Schmidheiny, their father Max decided to divide his industrial empire into two halves: asbestos for Stephan, cement for Thomas.[2]

According to his official biography, he ended the company's use of asbestos in 1986. Years later he diversified his investments, building up a multinational conglomerate of shareholdings by adding enterprises in the areas of forestry, banking, consumer goods, power generation, and the electronic and optical equipment, and by entering the boards of directors of leading companies such as ABB Asea Brown Boveri, Nestlé, Swatch, and UBS AG.

In the 1980s he created FUNDES, an organization that supports the development of small and medium-sized enterprises in several Latin American countries. According to recent Swiss accounts, Stephan Schmidheiny began buying Chilean forest land in 1982, and he now owns over 120,000 hectares in Southern Chile, near Concepción, land which the Mapuche Indians claim has been theirs since time immemorial. The Mapuche charge that some of the land Schmidheiny bought was stolen from them during the Pinochet dictatorship, using that regime's standard techniques of intimidation, torture, and murder.[3]

In 1990 he was appointed chief adviser for business and industry to the secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), better known as the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992. He created a forum in which leading businessmen from all parts of the world developed a business perspective on environment and development challenges. This forum later became the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), an organization that today counts the world’s 160 most important companies as its members. Stephan Schmidheiny was elected Honorary Chairman.

In the 1990s he also established the AVINA Foundation, which contributes to sustainable development in Latin America by encouraging productive alliances among social and business leaders and today is a leading player in that field.

After the creation of VIVA Trust in 2003, Stephan Schmidheiny retired from all of his executive functions, including his positions in GrupoNueva and AVINA.

On his personal website[4] is possible to find a specific section about his "philantropic activities" and another about his engagement for "ecological efficience".

Negligent behavior trial[edit]

Stephan Schmidheiny and the 88-year-old Baron Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, from Belgium, were charged for allegedly negligent behavior in exposing Eternit's workers and citizens to asbestos. The legal proceeding began at the Palace of Justice, Turin, Italy on December 10, 2009. The trial was a mass civil action in which some 6,000 people were seeking damages over the deaths of around 3,000 people who worked at or lived near Eternit’s plants in Italy. After years of investigation, the Prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello and his team acted on behalf of 2,619 former Eternit employees from the Italian factories in Casale Monferrato (Province of Alessandria), Cavagnolo (Province of Turin), Rubiera (Province of Reggio Emilia) and Bagnoli (Naples) and 270 family members or local residents who received para occupational or environmental exposure to Eternit asbestos. The prosecution requested the maximum sentence of 12 years imprisonment and demanded eight more years be added on the grounds that asbestos can trigger ailments decades after exposure. On July 4, 2011 at the Turin court of justice, near the end of this trial, the Prosecutor asked for a 20-year term in prison for both Stephan Schmidheiny and Cartier de Marchienne. The prosecution’s five-year inquiry determined that the two executives were effectively responsible for Eternit’s Italian operations at the time of the contaminations in the 1970s, a claim rejected by the defence team.[5] They were both sentenced to 16 years imprisonment on February 13, 2012.[6] Stephan Schmidheiny failed to present himself in court during the two-year-long trial and was not present for the verdict.

On June 3, 2013, the judgment given in February was not only confirmed, but also increased to 18 years imprisonment for environmental damage by the Turin Appeal Court,[7] in a trial with more than 2,890 injured parties and 2,000 deaths; however the sentence won't take effect because in 2014 it was ruled that the statute of limitations had passed.[8][9] General Attorney Iacoviello stated in his closing speech that defendant Schmidheiny was found guilty of all the accusations, but that between justice and legal right, the judge must always choose for the latter. [10] In a press release, his defense asked "the Italian state to now protect Stephan Schmidheiny from further unjustified criminal proceedings and to stop all pending proceedings".[11]

Sara Panelli, public prosecutor in the trial, and Rosalba Altopiedi published in 2014 an e-book about the trial entitled "Il Grande Processo" ("The Big Trial"). Fearing the effects that international exposure of such book could have on his image, Schmidheiny and his legal team ordered and obtained the block of its distribution on Amazon. [12]

According to a 2014 article, Schmidheiny was acquitted of the Italian charges. He is described as divesting himself of the factories making asbestos.[13]

Trial for voluntary manslaughter of 258 people[edit]

In the trial called "Eternit Bis", Stephan Schmidheiny is defending from the accusation of voluntary manslaughter for the death of 258 people who died between 1989 and 2014. The first hearing of this trial has been on May 12, 2015.


  1. The Bill Gates of Switzerland [2]
  2. Moral Fiber: Billionaire Activist On Environment Faces His Own Past, By David Bank, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 9, 2002. [3]

External links[edit]