Belgian chemical giant Solvay and a "toxic legacy"

In 2001, Belgian chemical giant Solvay acquired an Italian chemical company and its plants in Italy, the U.S. and other countries. The acquisition, overseen by Bernard de Laguiche, then a Solvay senior executive, helped the company compete globally with industry leader DuPont and its famed Teflon product. As the new owner, Solvay promised to clean up the contaminated site of an aging plant in northern Italy. But the cleanup lagged, and the plant continued to leak toxic chemicals, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has reported.

The Pandora Papers show that, in 2009, around the time Italian authorities charged de Laguiche and other managers with contaminating water supplies, the executive and his family transferred Solvay stock and other assets worth at least $57 million to trusts and shell companies in Singapore and New Zealand. He was later acquitted of the charges.

De Laguiche said he didn’t move wealth offshore in response to the Italian investigation or to avoid taxes. Solvay denied any wrongdoing, and told ICIJ in a statement that the company is “committed to maintaining the highest standards of safe and sustainable operations.”

Earlier this year, an international commercial court said the Italian company that sold Solvay the plant in northern Italy misrepresented the site’s environmental conditions.

In February, Italian authorities opened a new investigation into Solvay’s Italian unit after they discovered toxic chemicals produced at the plant leaking into the local water supply. The probe is ongoing. The company said the runoff was due to “unpredictable weather events.”

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