TURIN, Italy (AP) — A top ThyssenKrupp executive was convicted of murder in Italy on Friday for a 2007 plant blaze that killed seven workers in Italy, news reports said.
The court in Turin sentenced ThyssenKrupp's CEO for Italy, Harald Espenhahn, to 16 1/2 years in prison, as had been requested by the prosecutors, ANSA and LaPresse news agencies said. Five other company officials were convicted on manslaughter charges and sentenced up to 13 1/2 years in prison, according to the reports.
The trial has been hailed as historic because it was the first time that workplace deaths in Italy had led to murder charges and, now, a conviction.
Relatives of the victims, some wearing T-shirts featuring photos of the victims, applauded after the verdict was read in a Turin courtroom. Some cried, others hugged and thanked the leading prosecutor, Raffaele Guariniello.
"I believe this conviction can mean a lot for the safety of workplaces," Guariniello said, calling the ruling "epoch-making."
The verdict, reached after several hours of deliberations, can be appealed. ThyssenKrupp called it "incomprehensible and unexplainable" in a statement carried by ANSA. It expressed its pain for the workers' deaths, and said that "a similar tragedy must never repeat itself."
One worker died immediately in the blaze at the German steelmaker's plant in Turin, while the other six died later in the hospital. The deaths prompted calls in Italy for improved safety measures in the workplace. ThyssenKrupp AG said after the blaze that there was no confirmation that any safety violations had played a role in the fire.
Labor Minister Maurizio Sacconi said the verdict sets a "relevant precedent."
Giorgio Airaudo of the metalworkers union Fiom welcomed the ruling, saying: "When workers are injured or killed at the workplace it's never by chance, it's always somebody's responsibility."