Hungary seized control on Tuesday of the company at the centre of the deadly toxic sludge disaster, a day after its managing director was arrested.


A bill to nationalise MAL Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company was overwhelmingly approved by the parliament, with 336 votes in favour, one against and 13 abstentions.

The bill was then signed into law by President Pal Schmitt.

Under it, the government will freeze the assets of MAL and install its own representative or commissioner at the helm, who will then be responsible for resolving the current catastrophe that has left eight people dead, 150 injured and hundreds homeless.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Peter Szijjarto, a spokesman for Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said the national chief of the disaster relief services, Gyorgy Bakondi, had been appointed to the position.

“As commissioner, Bakondi will have four main tasks: to prepare the resumption of operations at the site so as to safeguard jobs; to determine liability; launch the compensation process; and make sure no further accident occurs,” the spokesman said.

Bakondi, for his part, said he would begin by taking a close look at MAL’s financial situation.

MAL has been accused of overloading a reservoir of toxic residue at its alumina plant in Ajka, 160 kilometres from Budapest.

The reservoir’s retaining walls burst a week ago, sending a tidal wave of toxic sludge through surrounding villages and across an area of 40 square kilometres and polluting the Danube and its tributaries.

At least eight people have died in the disaster and 45 people remain hospitalised, two in very serious condition.

The company denies any wrongdoing. But an investigation is underway to determine the exact causes of the spill and on Monday, MAL’s managing director Zoltan Bakonyi was taken into custody for questioning.