A court in Krasnoyarsk has convicted former Norilsk Mayor Rinat Akhmetchin of criminal negligence and sentenced him to six months of community service for his role in a massive oil leak this summer by a Nornickel subsidiary. The authorities will also garnish 15 percent of Akhmetchin’s salary. The trial was expedited because the ex-mayor confessed to the charges.
In late May 2020, a fuel storage tank at Norilsk-Taimyr Energy’s Thermal Power Plant No. 3 (owned by Nornickel) failed, flooding local rivers with roughly 21,000 metric tons of diesel oil. It was the worst such accident in Russia since 1994 when a pipeline in the Komi Republic leaked 94,000 metric tons of oil.
Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Uss and Federal Emergency Management Agency head Evgeny Zinichev say the accident was reported only two days after it began. Russia’s Federal Supervisory Natural Resources Management Service estimates that the Norilsk oil spill has caused roughly 148 billion rubles ($1.9 billion) in environmental damage, though Nornickel disputes this figure.
In his closing statement to the court, according to the news agency TASS, former Mayor Akhmetchin said he never wanted to harm the people of Norilsk or the city itself. “All my work was intended only to improve the lives of people in this area,” he said.
Federal Investigative Committee director Alexander Bastrykin said in an interview with the state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta that detectives found evidence of criminal negligence while examing the contents of Akhmetchin’s instant-messenger correspondence while he was mayor. The negligence, Bastrykin said, “was expressed in the failure to declare an emergency situation on time,” which led to “a significant increase in the amount of damage caused.”
Rinat Akhmetchin announced his resignation on July 20, 2020, four days after he told Krasnoyarsk Governor Uss that regional health officials were reporting what he believed to be unreliable statistics about the spread of coronavirus in Norilsk.