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Bhopal hoax sends Dow stock down

Friday, December 3, 2004 Posted: 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- An "elaborate deception" has led at least two news organizations to report that Dow Chemical had accepted responsibility for the Bhopal disaster, sending the company's stock down temporarily.

A person who claimed to be a Dow representative appeared on a BBC World news program Friday, saying the company had agreed to a multibillion-dollar compensation package.

After twice running the interview with a man identified as Jude Finisterra, the BBC determined the person was an imposter.

A spokeswoman for Dow Chemical in Switzerland also confirmed that the report was wrong, according to Reuters, which reported the initial interview.

In Frankfurt, Dow's share price fell 4.24 percent in 23 minutes, wiping $2 billion off its market value.

The shares rebounded in Frankfurt after the BBC issued an on-air correction and apology. In New York, Dow Chemical's stock was little changed in early trading.

In India, the original report spread like wildfire, causing great elation. When it proved to be a hoax, it elicited disappointment, anger and tears.

Author Dominic LaPierre, who has been fighting for Bhopal victims, strongly denounced the bogus spokesman for providing "false hope" to the victims of the tragedy.

In a subsequent news bulletin, the BBC said: "We apologize to Dow and to anyone who watched the interview who may have been misled by it. Of course, the BBC is investigating how the deception happened."

Earlier, the BBC said the interview had taken place in Paris. It was aired on the 20th anniversary of the disaster, when thousands of people died after a gas leak at a chemical plant in Bhopal, India. (Full story)

The factory was owned by Union Carbide, now a Dow subsidiary.

"This morning at 9 and 10 a.m. GMT, BBC World ran an interview with someone purporting to be from the Dow Chemical Company about Bhopal," the BBC said.

"This information was inaccurate, part of an elaborate deception. The person did not represent the company and we want to make it clear that the information he gave was entirely inaccurate."

A Dow spokeswoman said Finisterra was not a Dow employee or spokesperson, Reuters reported.

Dow issued a statement saying: "This morning a false statement was carried by BBC World regarding responsibility for the Bhopal tragedy by an individual identifying himself as a Dow spokesman. Dow confirms there was no basis whatsoever for this report. BBC World has been informed of this error."

Finisterra later told BBC Radio he was part of a group called Yes Men, which has hoaxed businesses and governments and has gone after Dow before over Bhopal.

"I was speaking on behalf of Dow in a certain way. I was expressing what they should express," Reuters quoted him as saying. "I have enough connection with Dow as everybody else on the planet. I use many of their products."

Finisterra said he felt bad that Bhopal residents broke down in tears when they learned of the report.

"This is an unfortunate result that we did anticipate might happen," he said.

In the original interview with the BBC, Finisterra said Dow had taken responsibility for the disaster and was setting up a $12 billion fund "to finally, at long last, fully compensate the victims, including the 120,000 who may need medical care for their entire lives, and to fully and swiftly remediate the Bhopal site."

Finisterra also said the company "resolved to liquidate Union Carbide, this nightmare for the world and this headache for Dow, and use the $12 billion to provide more than $500 per victim, which is all that they've seen."

Had they been true, man's statements would have marked a major reversal for Dow, which has said it has no responsibility for the Bhopal disaster.

CNN Assignment Editor Caroline Paterson and New Delhi Bureau Chief Satinder Bindra contributed to this report.


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