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Demonstrators Shout Outside Courtroom; Oil Seller Questioned

March 31, 1987

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Women shouted outside the court Tuesday and some fainted. Inside, scarred survivors listened silently to one of 38 defendants charged with selling poisoned cooking oil that killed 584 people.

Ramon Ferrero, a wholesale dealer in edible oils, told the court he did not know bulk rapeseed oil he bought from another defendant six years ago had been adulterated and was unfit for human consumption.

He was the third defendant questioned by the prosecution in the trial, which began Monday and is expected to last six months. It is being called the largest trial in Spain’s history because it involves 38 defendants, many lawyers for victims, 2,500 witnesses and an indictment 250,000 pages long.

The oil, intended for industrial use, was sold as cheap olive oil in poor towns and neighborhoods around Madrid in May and June 1981. The first death, of an 8-year-old child, was reported May 6 of that year.

Thousands of victims and relatives of the dead gathered outside the building Monday and threw stones when defendants emerged for lunch, hitting Adela Jaraute Martinez, the only woman charged in the case.

Many defendants spent years in jail awaiting trial but now are free on bail. The courtroom is a makeshift arrangement at an exhibition hall in a park on Madrid’s outskirts.

On Tuesday, defense lawyers asked the three-judge court to dismiss charges because of the protests and attacks on defendants, which they said made a fair trial impossible. Presiding Judge Jose Antonio Jimenez-Alfaro denied the motion.

About 400 people sat silently in the courtroom during the morning session Tuesday while Fernando Bengoechea refused to answer questions from the government prosecutor, Eduardo Fungairino.

Bengoechea is co-owner with his brother Juan Miguel of the company that imported the rapeseed oil adulterated with toxic aniline dye.

Clusters of demonstrators, most of them women, shouted ″Murderers 3/8″ outside the hall. They called out slogans demanding justice and restored health rather than money.

Several women fainted and were carried away by by police.

Ferrero, the wholesale oil dealer, testified that one truckload of oil ″smelled bad″ and he returned it to Rapsa, the import firm owned by the Bengoechea brothers.

Juan Miguel Bengoechea testified Monday that he did not know the oil he sold to Ferrero’s company, Raelca, was intended for human consumption.

The prosecution wants a total of more than 100,000 years in prison for the eight principal defendants, including Ferrero and the Bengoecheas. Spanish law does not permit prison sentences of more than 30 years.

Prosecutors also seek the equivalent of millions of dollars in damages for families of the dead and for the 24,992 victims who still suffer from what Spanish doctors call ″toxic syndrome disease.″ Most defendants are bankrupt, and their total resources are said to be less than 1 percent of the amount sought.

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