Budapest, January 28 (MTI) – All 15 suspects in connection with Hungary’s red sludge disaster of 2010 were acquitted of charges by a local court in Veszprem in a non-binding ruling on Thursday.
The court based its ruling on a lack of criminal activities, and acquitted the defendants of charges of carelessness and causing public hazard, harming the environment and violating rules of waste management. The court also established that the toxic spill had been caused by a “loss of stability” in the soil under the dams of a red sludge reservoir. Construction of the reservoir without a proper foundation was to blame, the court said referring to a professional report, adding that the reservoir had been a “bomb ticking”.
The court established the reservoirs had lacked an appropriate monitoring system, but even with one the disaster could not have been prevented. They added that the reservoir had not contained more waste than permitted.
Before the ruling was read out, a radical nationalist Jobbik deputy held up a sign: “ten lives are worth so little”. Lajos Kepli was ejected from the court.
Kepli, who had headed a parliamentary investigation into the sludge spill, told reporters afterwards that he found the ruling “appalling”. He said his committee had earlier established that leaders of the alumina plant were “clearly” responsible for amassing “so much sludge” in the reservoir. “There isn’t a country in the world where they would not find the people responsible for such a disaster,” Kepli said.
The ruling Fidesz party said it was “shocked” by the ruling. Lawmaker Szilard Nemeth said it was “unacceptable that no one is held responsible in a case like this”. Nemeth said the government respects the ruling, but asked the prosecution to appeal, insisting that it is possible to determine who was responsible for the disaster.
The green opposition LMP party said Hungary’s rules were not up to the task of preventing or managing environmental disasters, and called for legal changes as well as demanding that people responsible for the spill should be held to account.
LMP’s Benedek R Sallai, who also head parliament’s sustainable development committee, urged parliament to pass his party’s mandatory environmental liability proposal into law.
The Dialogue for Hungary (PM) party criticised the acquittal ruling and said it seemed there was “no political will” to find the real culprits in this case. Benedek Javor, the party’s MEP, said the real solution to this problem would be to enact a Europe-wide law for handling industrial activities which have great environmental risks.
In Hungary’s worst environmental disaster a million cubic metres of toxic red sludge escaped from the reservoir of the Mal company’s alumina plant, flooding the nearby villages of Kolontar and Somlovasarhely, and the town of Devecser in October 16 years ago. The toxic spill killed ten people, injured over 200, destroyed 358 homes, wiped out all life in two small rivers and polluted over 1,000 hectares of land.