Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban [official website, in Hungarian] announced Monday that police have arrested [press release, in Hungarian] Mal Rt [corporate website, in Hungarian; Reuters backgrounder] CEO Zoltan Bakonyi on criminal negligence charges for the company's role in last week's Akja chemical spill [CNN backgrounder]. Orban also announced an emergency law [MTI-ECO report] that was easily passed [Reuters report] allowing the government to take control of Mal Rt, which owned the plant from which the spill originated. The spill occurred last Monday [NYT backgrounder] 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 [JURIST report] last Wednesday. If convicted, Bakonyi faces up to 11 years [Bloomberg report] 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 [BBC backgrounder]. In August, the Indian Supreme Court announced that it will reconsider [JURIST report] 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 [JURIST report] 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.