2020-11-30 10:12:52

More than four dozen people, including high-level employees and officials, have been sentenced to prison over a chemical factory explosion in the eastern Jiangsu province that killed 78 people and injured hundreds more last March, local media reported Monday.

Multiple courts in the province handed down sentences to 53 individuals, including 15 public servants, who were held responsible for the explosion at the Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Co. Ltd. in the city of Yancheng. While factory owners and employees were given prison sentences of up to 20 years, punishments for the public servants ranged from seven and a half years to three years and three months.

Sun Feng, the former director of the emergency management bureau in Xiangshui County, where the explosion took place, also received a prison sentence, though the length is unclear, according to the media report. The officials were all charged with “negligence of duty and bribery.”

An investigation last year determined that the explosion at Jiangsu Tianjiayi was caused by illegally stored hazardous chemical waste catching fire, and that the plant had “ignored” national environmental protection and work safety laws. The inquiry also found that work safety and environmental assessment agencies had given false evaluations, with several local government departments ignoring potentially grave risks.

The then-general manager of Jiangsu Tianjiayi, Zhang Qinyue, has received the maximum prison term of 20 years, as well as a 1.55 million yuan ($235,000) fine for environmental pollution, bribery, and illegally storing hazardous substances. Two general managers at Jiangsu Nijiaxiang Group, which owned Jiangsu Tianjiayi, were sentenced to 12 and 13 years in prison for illegally storing hazardous substances.

The deputy head of the laboratory at the Yancheng environmental monitoring center, Yang Haojie, and 21 people from intermediate agencies were given prison sentences ranging from nine months to four years. The monitoring center, along with five other agencies, were also slapped with fines ranging from 100,000 yuan to 1 million yuan for providing false certifications on documents or misrepresenting certified documents.

Additionally, 13 employees from Jiangsu Tianjiayi were sentenced to between one and a half years and nine years in prison for their roles in the blast.

Last year’s explosion led to a national crackdown on illegal practices including violating environmental and work safety regulations at chemical factories, resulting in the closure of thousands of plants. This year, an anti-corruption campaign aimed at government departments supervising the chemical industry was also launched in Jiangsu, which is home to thousands of chemical factories.

Last month, the Jiangsu Commission for Discipline Inspection announced that Ma Junjian, deputy head of the Standing Committee of the Yancheng People’s Congress, was also under investigation for alleged collusion and bribery involving several substandard chemical factories in the province.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: An aerial view of the aftermath of an explosion at the Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Co. Ltd. in Xiangshui County, Jiangsu province, March 23, 2019. People Visual)