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USA: Union Carbide CEO Fugitive in Bhopal Suit

by Chris HedgesNew York Times
March 7th, 2000

Warren M. Anderson, chairman of the Union Carbide Corporation during the 1984 chemical disaster at Bhopal, India, has apparently gone into hiding to avoid a summons to appear in a Manhattan federal court as part of civil proceedings against him and the company, say lawyers who have hired a private investigator to locate Mr. Anderson.

Several attempts to deliver a summons to Mr. Anderson's last known address in Florida have failed and the property appears to be vacant, the lawyers say. Union Carbide has declined to accept a summons on behalf of Mr. Anderson, or to disclose his present location, said Kenneth F. McCallion, a lawyer who initiated the civil case.

More than 3,000 people were killed and 200,000 others were injured in Bhopal on December 3, 1984, when 40 tons of vaporous methyl isocyanate, hydrogen cyanide, monomethyl amine, carbon monoxide and possibly 20 other chemicals were released from the Union Carbide pesticide plant after an explosion. Many more have died since of gas-related illnesses. It ranks as one of the world's worst industrial accidents.

The company argues that it is not required to provide further compensation to victims of the disaster after a 1989 settlement for $470 million in a civil case brought by the Indian government. "The settlement with the government of India in 1989 of all claims arising from the Bhopal tragedy did not just cover Union Carbide, it covered all directors, officers and employees, including Warren Anderson," said Sean Clancy, spokesman at Union Carbide's corporate headquarters in Danbury, Conn. "Based on that settlement, we see no reason to encourage any disturbance of Mr. Anderson, who retired as chairman 12 years ago."

Mr. Anderson, who retired in 1989, is listed as residing at 111 South Catalina Court in Vero Beach, Fla. The Indian government, following criminal proceedings against him and the company, has issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Anderson and notified Interpol that he is a fugitive. He is charged in India with "culpable homicide" - the legal equivalent of manslaughter. "We have had no luck in serving him at his residence in Florida," said Mr. McCallion. "Union Carbide has declined to assist or accept service on his behalf."

Union Carbide and Mr. Anderson, in absentia, are currently on trial as criminal defendants in India. Mr. Anderson and company officials in the United States have refused to subject themselves to the jurisdiction of Bhopal District Court, despite orders by the Indian Supreme Court to do so. A written decision by John Keenan, a United States District Court judge in Manhattan, also ruled that Union Carbide "shall consent to submit to the jurisdiction of the courts of India."

Nine senior Indian officials from the Bhopal subsidiary of Union Carbide are in custody for the trial under way in the Bhopal District Court.

Union Carbide contends that all personal injury and related claims were settled with payment to the Indian government. Over 95 percent of the claimants who received payments have been given about $600 in the case of injuries or about $3000 in the case of death. More than half the money has yet to be dispensed.

The lawsuit filed in New York charges the company with violating international law and fundamental human rights of the victims and survivors. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. It states that "the defendants are liable for fraud and civil contempt for their total failure to comply with the lawful orders of the courts of both the United States and India."

The explosion took place during routine maintenance at the plant. A storage tank containing 60 tons of methyl isocyanate filled with water, apparently from leaky valves and corroded pipes, setting off a runaway reaction. In past statements, Union Carbide blamed a "disgruntled employee."

The plaintiffs contend that the plant safety systems were either switched off, malfunctioning or under repair. The plaintiffs in New York include individual survivors as well as five victims' organizations. Mr. McCallion alleged in his complaint that the company "demonstrated a reckless and depraved indifference to human life in the design, operation and maintenance of the Union Carbide of India Ltd. facility."

Union Carbide, the victims' groups contend, has refused to provide information to medical workers in Bhopal where advocacy groups say an estimated 10 to 15 people continue to die every month from exposure related illnesses, on the composition of the leaked gases and their effects. The company argues that these are "trade secrets." The Bhopal Hospital Trust that treats victims was set up by Union Carbide as part of the settlement.





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