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Russian Arctic Mayor Charged With Negligence Over Fuel Spill Resigns

Rinat Akhmetchin had been Norilsk's mayor since September 2017.
Rinat Akhmetchin had been Norilsk's mayor since September 2017.

KRASNOYARSK, Russia -- The mayor of the Russian Arctic city of Norilsk, who was charged with negligence over his response to a spill that dumped thousands of tons of diesel fuel into local waterways in late May, has resigned.

Rinat Akhmetchin, who had been Norilsk's mayor since September 2017, announced his resignation on July 20 after the governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, Aleksandr Uss, criticized his handling of issues such as the spill and the coronavirus outbreak.

Russia's Investigative Committee opened a probe against Akhmetchin, 55, in June after 21,000 tons of diesel fuel leaked from a tank at a power plant near Norilsk on May 29.

Akhmetchin was accused of failing to coordinate and organize emergency measures to contain and control fallout from the leakage.

The power plant is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the world's leading nickel and palladium producer, which said the leak was caused when pillars supporting a storage tank sank due to thawing permafrost soil.

The Prosecutor-General's Office has also issued preliminary findings revealing that sagging ground helped trigger the disaster.

Akhmetchin faces up to six months in prison if convicted.

Four managers at the power station were arrested on suspicion of violating environmental-protection rules.

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

President Vladimir Putin ordered a state of emergency after the extent of the spill became known and Norilsk Nickel has since promised to pay for the costs of the cleanup, estimated at 10 billion rubles ($145 million).

Norilsk Nickel is owned by Russia's richest man, Vladimir Potanin. The company denies allegations that management hushed up and downplayed the scale of the disaster for at least two days.

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