WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A former New Zealand coal mine boss pleaded not guilty Thursday to 12 labor law violations involving the underground explosion nearly two years ago that killed 29 miners.
Former Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall is charged with knowing about or participating in the failures of the company and with failing to ensure that none of his actions harmed any of his employees.
The victims' bodies are still entombed in the Pike River mine because the methane gas buildup that caused the explosion has made a recovery operation too risky.
At the government's ongoing investigation, experts have testified the mine didn't have adequate escape routes or ventilation to rid it of explosive gasses and that the financially strained coal company was cutting corners.
Whittall's charges relate to his alleged failure to manage the mine's ventilation and mitigate the risk of explosions. Whittall's lawyers say their client is a longtime coal miner who would never do anything to put his workers at risk and that he is being made a scapegoat.