A court in southwestern France on Monday convicted a factory chief and a subsidiary of oil giant Total of manslaughter for an explosion at a chemical plant in 2001 that killed 31 people.
The appeals court overturned earlier acquittals, 11 years after the blast that tore apart the AZF plant in Toulouse with the force of a 3.4-magnitude earthquake. Some 2,000 people were injured.
The appeals court cited negligence by factory chief Serge Biechlin, saying it “created or contributed to the situation” that caused the accident. It said Total subsidiary Grande Paroisse was his employer and, therefore, also responsible.
Biechlin’s defense said he would take the case to the Supreme Court.
The blast occurred 10 days after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, raising fears of terrorism, but it proved to be an accident. However, it took years to determine the exact cause behind the explosion, which killed and injured Toulouse residents beyond the factory site, where 21 people died.
The factory chief was convicted Monday by the appeals court of manslaughter and involuntary injury and destruction of goods and sentenced to three years in prison with two of the years suspended. He was fined $58,446. The Total subsidiary Grande Paroisse was fined $292,230.
A 2006 report by judicial investigators blamed the explosion on negligence that allowed ammonium nitrate to come into contact with other chemicals.
In 2009, an initial ruling by the lower court acquitted both defendants, giving them the “benefit of doubt.”
However, the presiding judge at the appeals court, Bernard Brunet, stressed that the “chemical track has been demonstrated indisputably,” the Sipa news agency reported.
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