MADRID (Reuters) -A Spanish businessman has admitted in court that he covered up the dangers of his company's star product, which allegedly led to nearly 1,900 workers contracting the occupational lung disease silicosis, court documents showed on Tuesday.
Francisco Martinez, who owns Spain's leading kitchen worktop manufacturer Cosentino, accepted a six-month suspended prison sentence for five counts of serious injury due to gross negligence in a plea bargain with the court in the northwestern region of Galicia.
Cosentino said in a statement the plea deal only admitted liability for insufficient technical information affecting five workers at a specific workshop and therefore could "not be extrapolated to other past or future proceedings".
Prosecutors had initially sought a prison term of two years and nine months.
Cosentino, based in the southern province of Almeria, is planning an IPO that could be worth more than 3 billion euros. The company employs over 5,000 people worldwide and posted record sales of 1.4 billion euros in 2021.
In the ruling, the judge said Martinez had failed to adequately label the 95% silica content of Cosentino's bestselling quartz agglomerate, branded as "Silestone", despite being aware of the safety and health risks its manipulation entailed.
The 71-year-old businessman also agreed to pay 1.1 million euros ($1.2 million) in compensation to the five stonemasons - one of whom has since died - who had sued him for failing to warn of the risk of silicosis linked to cutting and polishing Silestone countertops.
Cosentino said managers at stone-cutting workshops "are responsible for ensuring that their workers have the necessary means of protection and that they implement them appropriately".
"It is entirely incorrect that Cosentino has admitted to having concealed the fact that the handling of Silestone has caused the majority of cases of silicosis that have affected 1,856 workers," it added.
Silicosis is an incurable disease, common among miners, marked by permanent scarring of the lungs caused by prolonged inhalation of crystalline silica dust. Its symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent coughs and chronic fatigue.
Martinez is set to return to the dock in July for a separate trial in the northern city of Bilbao. Prosecutors are asking for two and a half years' imprisonment on six counts of reckless injury.
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(Reporting by David Latona; Editing by William Maclean and Ben Dangerfield)