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Court acquits leaders of alumina plant in red sludge trial

February 1st, 2016

The leading pro-government daily finds it outrageous that the leaders of the MAL Company, responsible for a 2010 industrial accident in western Hungary in which ten people died, were cleared of the criminal charges against them. A left-wing commentator blames the government for suggesting that the management bore responsibility for the disaster.

In a first instance ruling on Thursday, the Veszprém Municipal Court acquitted the top managers of the MAL Hungarian Aluminium Company of all criminal charges. In October 2010, ten people died and a whole village was destroyed by a tidal wave of red sludge, when the wall of a waste storage reservoir of the MAL alumina works at Ajka ruptured. According to the verdict, the leaders of the company complied with all relevant rules and regulations and were not aware of any hazards. The prosecutor announced that he would appeal against the verdict. In a 2012 court ruling the company paid limited compensation to victims (see BudaPost October 29, 2012).

It is a shame that after years of investigation and court proceedings, the criminal responsibility of the MAL management could not be established, Gyula Haraszti comments in Magyar Idők.  The pro-government columnist accuses judge Györgyi Szabó of being “complicit” in a catastrophe which was caused by negligence. Haraszti recalls that the MAL Company was privatized at a reduced price because the new owners pledged to invest billions of Forints in improving the factory’s technology. Had they done so and kept all other regulations, the catastrophe would not have happened, Haraszti claims. In conclusion, he hopes that the appeals court will “restore justice” and overrule the first instance verdict.

In Népszabadság, Péter Cseri blames the government for suggesting in the first place that the management of MAL bore criminal responsibility for the catastrophe. The left-wing columnist quotes judge Györgyi Szabó who remarked in her verdict remarked that the red sludge spill was not a natural disaster, but the result of human negligence. Those responsible, however, were not to be found among the defendants, but among those who constructed and oversaw the plant before it was privatized, Cseri believes.

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