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Aluminium company to pay compensation for Red Sludge damage

October 29th, 2012

Commentators both on the right and the left welcome a court verdict which compels the MAL aluminium company to compensate victims of the 2010 red sludge disaster. A pro-government columnist believes that the accident was the result of the poorly thought out privatisation of the plant by the former Socialist-Liberal coalition.

On 4 October 2010, one wall of a waste storage reservoir of the MAL Hungarian Aluminium company close to the western Hungarian town of Ajka ruptured. The red sludge which spilt through the breach flooded nearby municipalities, killing 10 and injuring more than 100. The government spent a total of 88 billion Forints (over 130 million euros) to rebuild over 300 houses and to clean up and recultivate the environment. According to Thursday’s court decision, MAL is responsible for the accident, and should pay compensation to the families who sued the company for their injuries and the damage. According to legal experts, the verdict sets a precedent and MAL will have to pay compensation to dozens of other families as well.

In Magyar Nemzet, Gyula Haraszti finds it shocking that the leadership of MAL tried to duck responsibility. He stresses that the aluminium company was privatized in 1997 under the Socialist-Liberal government. The current owners paid a mere 10 million forints for the firm which in the year of the privatisation was actually worth 1,8 billion forints. The owners promised to invest several billion forints into the plant, but in fact did not even bother to maintain the existing facilities, Haraszti alleges. Instead of taking the necessary precautionary measures required from companies handling dangerous materials, they were interested only in easy profit, Haraszti believes. “The events show that after privatisation the company continued to operate in the communist fashion … the only difference being that it now filled the pockets of its new owners.” The authorities should have been more careful, Haraszti adds, but the owners, as the main culprits, should end up behind bars.

Népszabadság in a front page editorial welcomes the court’s decision. The left-wing daily, however, finds it worrying that the Orbán government in 2010, two years before the legal procedure was concluded, enacted a decree which held MAL financially responsible for the accident. All this, Népszabadság suggests, could mean that the government wanted to pressure and influence the court. The daily adds that those state authorities which oversaw the construction and operation of the aluminium factory should also be investigated, to find out whether they share responsibility for the dam’s failure. By not looking into their role as well, the wrong message is sent to officials, Népszabadság concludes.

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