K+S CEO, Management Board Members Charged Over Waste Disposal

  • Prosecutors say disposal licenses were illegally obtained
  • K+S faces profit seizures, may become associated party in case

Prosecutors in the German town of Meiningen said they charged 14 people at K+S AG, including Chief Executive Officer Norbert Steiner and other members of the management board, with illegally disposing mine waste and polluting waters.

The charges stem from the period spanning 1999 to 2007 when saline waste water was deposited in Gerstungen, a town in the state of Thuringia, Meiningen prosecutors said Friday in an e-mailed statement. The former CEO and two former public officials were also charged, they said, without disclosing names. K+S Chairman Ralf Bethke was CEO from 1991 to 2007.

K+S officials and local authorities colluded to illegally produce licenses for the disposals, according to the statement. Prosecutors are seeking to make K+S an associated party to the case and seize any gains the company made had from the action.

"After extensive investigations, Meiningen prosecutors have come to the conclusion that representatives from K+S and public officials at least tacitly agreed that the licenses for the disposal weren’t in line with the law," the investigators said. “All must have known that expert testimony that the disposal couldn’t pollute waters was wrong."

Offices Searched

The prosecutors searched K+S offices in September, seven years after the nearby municipality of Gerstungen said that permission granted by German authorities to pump the saline waste water into rock formations in the region was illegal. Gerstungen has repeatedly alleged that this affected the quality of its drinking water. K+S has faced opposition from environmental groups for about a decade over its disposal of brackish water.

K+S maintains that the permit it obtained was lawful.

“Against this backdrop, the company sees no need to implement any precautionary financial measures,” it said in a statement on Thursday before the prosecutors’ announcement. K+S spokesman Michael Wudonig declined to comment Friday beyond that statement.

K+S shares rose 12 cents to 20.83 euros at 11:24 a.m. in Frankfurt after dropping as much as 1.3 percent after the prosecutors’ statement.

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