CEO of firm involved in red sludge flood detained

DEVECSER, Hungary — Hungarian police have detained the director of the aluminum company responsible for a flood of caustic red sludge that killed eight people when it burst from its reservoir last week, the prime minister said Monday.

The damaged reservoir of an alumina plant is seen from the air near the village of Kolontar

The damaged reservoir of an alumina plant is seen from the air near the village of Kolontar

DEVECSER, Hungary — Hungarian police have detained the director of the aluminum company responsible for a flood of caustic red sludge that killed eight people when it burst from its reservoir last week, the prime minister said Monday.

Police said they were questioning managing director Zoltan Bakonyi on suspicion of public endangerment causing multiple deaths and environmental damage.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told parliament that the government wanted to take over MAL Rt., the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company, because the safe restart of production at the alumina plant was needed to save the jobs of thousands of workers.

Orban said his administration was also freezing the company’s assets to ensure that funds were available to compensate for the damages.

“Since this is not a natural catastrophe but the damage was brought about by people, the damages must be paid first and foremost not by taxpayers but by those who caused the damage,” Orban told lawmakers.

Late last week, Bakonyi said that MAL Rt. had not noticed anything irregular at the site.

“The reservoir — which our men patrol daily — did not show any physical signs that something of this nature could happen,” Bakonyi said.

Orban, however, said the government had other suspicions.

“We have well-founded reasons to believe that there were people who knew about the dangerous weakening of the reservoir wall, but for personal reasons they thought it wasn’t worth repairing and hoped there’d be no trouble,” Orban said.

On Sunday, MAL Rt. said it was willing to pay compensation “in proportion to its responsibility” for the damage caused by the deluge.

Late Monday, parliament passed a proposal giving the government the power to take over any company involved in a catastrophe.

While the opposition Socialists voted in favour of the plan, former Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said the bill would give the government too much control.

“The government is asking for authorization to take away by decree whatever it wants, whenever it wants and from whomever it wants and do with it anything it wants without any responsibility,” Gyurcsany wrote. “This in not simply unconstitutional, it is immoral and an atrocity.”