Two former executives of an alumina plant in Hungary were sentenced Monday to prison for an industrial disaster that claimed the lives of eight people and wounded more than 220 people in flooded towns and villages, announced a Hungarian court.
Zoltan B., former CEO of MAL Zrt., Was sentenced to two and a half years' imprisonment for public corruption and other crimes, while Jozsef D., Deputy Director General, was sentenced to two years.
In accordance with the rules of confidentiality, the court did not identify the accused by their full name.
On October 4, 2010, a wall of a huge factory tank collapsed, flooding three towns and villages with about 2 million cubic meters (528 million gallons) of mud toxic red and water.
The highly alkaline mixture burned the skin of the victims, some of whom were swept away by the flood and drowned. One of the victims was 14 months old.
Eight others tried for the 2010 disaster were given conditional sentences, fines or reprimands, while Gyor City Court acquitted five. The 15 accused were acquitted of all charges in 2016, but a court of appeal ordered a new trial.
Monday's decision was appealed by prosecutors, who have called for tougher sentences, and by most convicted defendants, who are demanding tougher sentences.
The court of first instance ruled that MAL Zrt. Managers and employees have broken many rules regarding the storage and handling of sludge and water residues from the production of alumina, the main raw material for the manufacture of aluminum.
"The negligence of the accused contributed to the disaster, since they did not deal with the warning signs of a possible offense," the court said in a statement. "And they misled local residents and authorities about the actual amount and toxicity of water accumulated because of rule violations, which ultimately became critical factors in the disaster."
The court also said that the defendants had not warned the authorities or had delayed to do so with regard to the floods of sludge and their toxicity. The former CEO has also made deliberately misleading statements about the dangers of the spill, the court said.
The amount of water stored in the 25-hectare (61.8-acre) reservoir, more than 1 million cubic meters (264 million gallons), was more than double the limit and its toxicity exceeded authorized level.
In its decision on Monday, the court also condemned poor planning, construction and maintenance of the reservoir.
The environmental group Greenpeace called the convictions "historical", adding that the questions of the responsibility of the supervisory authorities of the plant – which in some cases did not function in accordance with standards – remained unanswered.
"For Hungary to avoid similar disasters in the future, it needs independent and effective authorities," Greenpeace said in a statement. "And strong and enforceable laws capable of guaranteeing the most important principle of environmental protection: the polluter pays."