ROME — An Italian court on Friday sentenced German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp's director-general in Italy to 16.5 years in jail for the deaths of seven workers after a fire at its Turin plant in December 2007.

Harald Espenhahn was convicted by a court in Turin in the north of the country of "voluntary homicide", a first in Italy for a workplace accident.

Seven workers died days and weeks after suffering severe burns when a fire broke out at the steel plant's thermal treatment department.

The fire was one of the worst in Italy and sparked a public debate over health and safety regulations.

Four other executives were convicted of complicity by carelessness and sentenced to 13.5 years in prison, and a fifth received a 10-year jail term.

ThyssenKrupp was also fined one million euros.

The steelmaker called the verdict against Espenhahn "incomprehensible and inexplicable", in a statement released in Italy, adding that its attorneys would look into what can be done about it.

The defence had claimed the trial was "political".

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