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.