Court to Look into Causes of Slovakia’s Biggest Ever Mining Tragedy Again

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Firefighters rescuing miners during the tragedy (stock photo by TASR)

Bratislava/Prievidza, November 16 (TASR) – The Prievidza District Court will once again deal with the case involving a lethal explosion at the Handlova mine (Trencin region) in August 2009 which claimed the lives of 20 people, spokesman for Trencin region courts Roman Tarabus told TASR on Thursday.

“Two experts and one witness have been summoned for the main hearing,” said Tarabus.

A former head of the mining security department at the Central Mining Office (HBU) and a member of the commission for the investigation of the explosion’s cause, Vladimir Tejbus, is also set to give testimony. Tejbus claims the whole tragedy happened differently than what is depicted in the official version. According to Tejbus, the tragedy wasn’t caused by an act of God, but by human error.

“I see this as a great satisfaction not only for me, but especially for the victims and the bereaved. I consider it to be the first sign that the truth can eventually come to light and justice can be done. I believe that by describing everything around the mining tragedy and of everything that happened not only in the mine, but also at the mining authorities, by explaining all the circumstances surrounding the violation of the mining security regulations… based on the evidence, which has so far been ignored, I’ll manage to prove before the court that what I’ve been saying from the beginning really makes sense,” said Tejbus, who received the Order of Durko Langsfeld for civic courage and professional bravery in October.

HBU in the past refused to comment on information purporting that the mining tragedy at Handlova in 2009 could have had a different cause and that the death of 20 miners and rescuers didn’t have to be caused by an explosion. “Given the ongoing legal proceedings, we cannot comment on the issue,” read the HBU statement.

The investigation into the circumstances surrounding the lethal explosion in the Handlova mine was reopened in October 2016 and still hasn’t been concluded.

“Prosecution for the crime of obstructing the execution of justice still hasn’t been concluded, it continues. An investigator from Prievidza District Police Directorate is carrying out procedural moves in the case in line with the Penal Code on the orders of a prosecutor from Prievidza District Prosecutor’s Office,” Trencin Regional Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Marian Sipavy told TASR.

In the case, which had seen sentences handed down, a prosecutor from Prievidza District Prosecutor’s Office, based on an examination of the dossier, scrapped a decision made by an investigator on September 12, 2016 to drop suspicions concerning the crime of obstructing the execution of justice, deeming this unlawful. A copy of the resolution on relaunching the prosecution obtained by TASR states that the “perpetrator, a staff member of the Main Mining Office (HBU), via their orders concerning the drawing up of a report on the findings, influenced the consultative commission’s work”.

The Prievidza District Court is set to deal with the mining case after the Trencin Regional Court annulled its original ruling to the full extent and returned the case back to the Prievidza court in order to renegotiate it and issue a new ruling. The Trencin Regional Court issued the decision in March.

Prievidza District Court convicted three people from the Upper Nitra Mines Prievidza in regards to the incident – Ladislav H., Jozef T., and Dalibor R. – sentencing them to imprisonment for between five to eight years back in 2015.

The tragic explosion took place underground in the morning of August 10, 2009 in the then Eastern Shaft at the Handlova mine. The explosion of mining gases and its aftermath killed 20 miners and mining rescuers. Another nine miners suffered various kinds of injuries. Rescuers were tackling a fire that had emerged in the shaft when a blast occurred shortly after 9:30 a.m. The incident is considered to be the biggest tragedy in the history of modern Slovak mining.