Russia charges Norilsk mayor with bungling fuel spill response

Authorities said Rinat Akhmetchin failed in coordinating emergency measures that could have helped contain the spill.

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MOSCOW — Russia said on Thursday it had charged the head of the remote Arctic city of Norilsk with criminal negligence over what investigators said was his bungled response to a major environmental disaster.

Around 21,000 tonnes of diesel leaked into rivers and subsoil on May 29 from a power station in Norilsk, an incident that Greenpeace has compared to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska.

[Fuel from Russian Arctic spill reaches large lake, says governor]

In a statement, the Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes said Rinat Akhmetchin, the mayor, had failed to coordinate and organize emergency measures to contain and control fallout from the spill.

A view shows water barriers during recovery works following a diesel fuel leak at a thermal power station near Norilsk in Krasnoyarsk Region, Russia in this handout picture obtained by Reuters June 11, 2020. (Russian Emergencies Ministry / Handout via Reuters)

The charges, which could see the mayor jailed for up to six months if found guilty, come a day after investigators arrested three managers at the power station involved in the spill.

They are suspected of having continued to use an unsafe fuel storage tank that had needed repairs since 2018.

[The massive Norilsk fuel spill could be linked to permafrost thaw, a growing threat to Arctic infrastructure]

President Vladimir Putin last week chided Norilsk Nickel over the leak and scolded the region’s governor after he said authorities had only learned of the disaster from social media two days after it happened.

Norilsk, a remote city of 180,000 situated 300 kilometers (190 miles) inside the Arctic Circle, is built around Norilsk Nickel, the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer.

Reporting by Maria Kiselyova.