Exclusive Prosecutors Sue K+S CEO and Chairman on Charges of Violating Environmental Laws

The chief executive and chairman of potash and salt producer K+S face prosecution on charges of violating environmental laws, prosecutors in the city of Meiningen in the state of Thuringia, said on Friday. The potash company’s chief executive, Norbert Steiner, and Ralf Bethke, non-executive chairman of the supervisory board, face charges together with 15 other suspects, including other K+S executives and three former and current civil servants who work for the Thuringia State Mining Agency, the prosecutors said in a statement. “The prosecutor’s office of Meiningen accuses them of water pollution in conjunction with improper handling of dangerous waste materials,” the prosecutors said. If found guilty, those accused could be fined or imprisoned. The case dates from a charge in 2008, based on the suspicion that K + S was disposing of potassium salts illegally and that the authorities responsible should not have issued the company with a permit. K+S declined to comment on Friday when contacted by German news agency DPA. Last month, however, K+S told business magazine WirtschaftsWoche, a sister publication of Handelsblatt, the company remained convinced that their permit was legal and that the accusations were unfounded. The prosecutors are also seeking €325 million, or $357 million, in damages over the alleged water pollution, WirtschaftsWoche reported earlier on Friday, without citing sources. K+S shares were up 0.6 percent 1:07 p.m. in Frankfurt, compared with a 0.9-percent rise on the German blue-chip DAX index.