Indonesia clears US miner in pollution trial

Manado, Indonesia - An Indonesian court cleared US mining giant Newmont of pollution on Tuesday, ending a legal battle that put the country's efforts to improve its standing among foreign investors at risk.

Prosecutors had wanted to jail company executive Richard Ness for three years in a high-profile pollution case closely watched by international business leaders as well as the Indonesian government.

Ness and the local unit of Newmont, the world's largest gold miner, had been charged with dumping tonnes of waste containing mercury and arsenic into Buyat Bay from its now defunct gold mine on Sulawesi island.

Ness and PT Newmont Minahasa Raya were also accused of sickening villagers and poisoning marine life with the waste released into the bay, around 2,300 kilometres (1,400 miles) northeast of Jakarta.

"We are very relieved," said Newmont Minahasa vice president Robert Gallagher told reporters.

"The people of Buyat Bay have suffered as a result of this accusation, and Rick Ness and his family have had an awful time," he said.

"I don't think any of us can understand what they have gone through. This is a relief."

Prosecutor Purwanta, who led the 20-month trial, said he would file an appeal within 14 days.

"They (the judges) only adopted the defence plea of the lawyer and dismissed what had been proven by the prosecutors," he said.

Ness was in the Manado provincial courtroom with his wife and son, who burst into tears when the verdict was read out.

About 100 environmentalists, gathered outside the court, started chanting against the decision as armed riot police stood guard. Another 100 villagers both supporting and opposing Newmont were also on hand for the decision.

"This is unjust, this is unjust," villager Janiah Ompi said.

"Today, the state should cry because the one who lost here is the state," said Rignolda Jamaluddin, who conducted a study of pollution around the bay.

Environmentalists had hoped the verdict would send a signal to companies operating in the resource-rich nation.

Head judge Ridwan Damanik told the court the "water of Buyat Bay was not contaminated with the tailings from PT Newmont."

"The defendant (Ness) is free from the charges of causing pollution and environmental damage."

Complaints from villagers living around the bay included headaches, skin rashes and tumours, which they blamed on the mine's tailings, prompting a police investigation and charges against Newmont in August 2005.

The company consistently denied the claims, saying it disposed of toxins safely and that levels of mercury and arsenic released were within acceptable levels.

Studies of the water around the bay have shown conflicting results. A World Health Organisation-backed report found no evidence of pollution, but government tests showed high levels of toxins.

Denver-based Newmont agreed last year to pay 30 million dollars in an out-of-court settlement in a civil lawsuit with the Indonesian government over the waste.

The deal, which did not see Newmont admit any wrongdoing, funds environmental monitoring and projects aimed at health, education and infrastructure in the area around the former mine. More

Agence France Presse

Share this

Related Posts

Next Post »