Hungary: CEO arrested over deadly chemical spill

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced Oct. 11 that police have arrested Mal Rt [Reuters backgrounder] CEO Zoltan Bakonyi on criminal negligence charges for the company’s role in last week’s Akja chemical spill. Orban also announced an emergency law that was easily passed allowing the government to take control of Mal Rt, which owned the plant from which the spill originated. The spill occurred Oct. 4 when one of the plant’s reservoirs cracked, releasing nearly 200 million gallons of toxic sludge, killing eight people, injuring hundreds more and causing environmental damage that some fear could take years to clean up. Police initiated their criminal investigation last week. If convicted, Bakonyi faces up to 11 years in prison.

Companies have been charged with criminal negligence in the context of other chemical spills in the past, the most notable of which are in relation to the 1984 Bhopal chemical spill disaster. In August, the Indian Supreme Court announced that it will reconsider a 1996 ruling allowing former employees of US chemical producer Union Carbide accused in relation to the 1984 chemical spill to be charged with negligence instead of culpable homicide. Seven men were convicted in June on charges of “death by negligence” and sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay USD $2,100. The convictions were the first related to the Bhopal disaster in which nearly 3,800 people were killed when toxic gas was accidentally released in the middle of the night by a chemical plant owned by a Union Carbide subsidiary company. Upwards of 15,000 others later died from exposure to the gas, and 50,000 were left permanently disabled.

From Jurist, Oct. 11. Used with permission.

  1. Hungary disaster was only human

    Wow, now if all countries made mistakes and accidents a crime we might be a safer place but then is this really fair? I mean, people are human which mean we will make mistakes.

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  2. Hungary court acquits 15 employees in 2010 toxic sludge spil

    A Hungarian court on Jan. 28 acquitted 15 employees of the Mal Corp for their role in the toxic sludge spill that killed 10 in 2010 after a reservoir burst. The spill—one of the worst environmental disasters of the nation, with more 1 million cubic meters of the sludge destroying hundreds of homes—took years of clean-up, costing 40 billion forints ($140 million). Many neighborhoods had to be demolished and rebuilt. After the spill, Mal Corp, facing blame for the incident, was taken over by the government. Several have expressed discontent with the ruling, with Greenpeace saying "it is obvious that human negligence led to the catastrophe." It is unclear whether the ruling will be appealed. (Jurist, Jan. 28)