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Europe

Head of Hungarian toxic sludge company arrested

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-10-11

Hungarian police have detained the managing director of aluminium producer MAL, the company responsible for a deadly spill of toxic sludge, as relief workers scramble to complete an emergency dam to stave off further damage.

AFP - The managing director of MAL, the company at the centre of Hungary's toxic sludge disaster, has been detained for questioning, police said Monday.

"The National Investigation Office has taken into custody Zoltan B., the managing director of MAL ZRT," the office said in a statement.

"The man has been taken into custody and the police has proposed his provisional arrest at the same time."

According to the website of MAL Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company, its managing director is Zoltan Bakonyi.

"The man's interrogation is under way in connection with the mud catastrophe which caused the death of several people."

Earlier, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had told a parliamentary session that police detained a company director "and initiated proceedings to place him in preventive custody."

"The company responsible for the toxic sludge disaster should be placed under state control," Orban said.

"Since it was not a natural disaster, but man-made, it won't be the taxpayer who foots the bill, but those who caused the damage," he insisted.

The retaining walls of a reservoir at an alumina plant owned by MAL in the town of Ajka, 160 kilometres (100 miles) west of Budapest, burst a week ago, sending a tidal wave of toxic sludge through surrounding villages.

Eight people died and 150 were injured in what officials quickly termed Hungary's worst-ever chemical accident and an ecological catastrophe, which polluted an area of 40 square kilometres (15.4 square miles), as well as tributaries of the Danube.

MAL has come under heavy fire, with officials suggesting too much of the caustic red sludge was contained in the reservoir, but the company insists it has done nothing wrong.

The company's three owners are among Hungary's 100 richest people, with personal fortunes of between 61 million and 85 million euros.

MAL, which was set up in 1995, posted annual revenues of 157 million euros and a profit of 715,000 euros in 2008.

Environment state secretary Zoltan Illes told journalists Monday that the company could face a fine of up to 73 million euros (102 million dollars).
 

Date created : 2010-10-11

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