Massey Energy Co. and the Mine Safety and Health Administration are under criminal investigation over the death of 29 miners after an explosion at one of the company's West Virginia coal mines, National Public Radio reported on Friday.
The FBI is examining possible bribery of officials at the agency that oversees the mining industry and possible criminal negligence on the part of Massey, the radio service reported, citing unidentified sources familiar with the investigation.
FBI, Mine Safety and Massey officials were not immediately available for comment. The 29 deaths at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia on April 5 was the worst U.S. mining disaster since 1970.
Shares of Massey Energy were down 8 percent at $37.86 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Earlier this week, Massey accused unions of spreading a "big lie" that the company had traded safety for profit, and Massey director Bobby Inman, a former senior CIA official, dismissed calls by shareholders to remove Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship.
Inman said Blankenship had borne the brunt of criticism for the Upper Big Branch accident and said firing the CEO was "not in the cards."
Organized labor charged that Massey's safety record was inferior to most other major coal companies. "The big truth is that 52 people have been killed on Massey property since 2000," United Mine Workers of America spokesman Phil Smith told Reuters. "No other coal company has had even half that."
Rob McGarrah, legal counsel for the AFL-CIO labor organization said: "The facts speak for themselves; federal and state investigations are under way."
On April 15, President Obama placed primary blame for the disaster on Massey and called for better mine oversight nationwide to prevent more accidents. He did not repeat that statement at a memorial service last Sunday for the victims.
© 2023 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.