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Prosecutors confident Indonesian court to find Newmont guilty of polluting bay

Published by MAC on 2007-03-16

Prosecutors confident Indonesian court to find Newmont guilty of polluting bay

The Associated Press

16th March 2007

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Indonesian prosecutors are confident a court will find a local subsidiary of Newmont Mining Corp. and a top executive guilty of polluting a bay with toxic chemicals when judges announce their verdict next month, a prosecutor said Saturday.

The U.S. gold-mining giant, however, said prosecutors had failed to prove their allegations, and no environmental harm was ever done by Newmont in Buyat Bay, on Indonesia's Sulawesi island.

Prosecutors in November asked judges to sentence Richard Ness who heads the Denver, Colorado-based company's Indonesian subsidiary, Newmont Minahasa Raya to three years in prison if found guilty of contaminating the bay with arsenic and mercury, and to fine Ness and Newmont more than $165,000.

The court was adjourned until April 4 when a panel of judges is scheduled to announce its verdict, presiding judge Ridwan Damanik said Friday of the closely watched case that has been ongoing for 20 months.

"We are optimistic we will win," said prosecutor Purwanta, who like many Indonesians uses one name only. "Many data and facts disclosed in the court have supported our prosecution."

But Ness disagreed. "Buyat Bay is clean, the fish are safe to eat, and our operation did not cause any negative impact to the community," Ness said in a statement Saturday. "The prosecutors have failed to prove their allegations."

Ness said a guilty ruling would contradict several scientific studies that found no evidence of pollution in Buyat Bay.

Some villagers claim they became sick because of pollution, but prosecutors have not presented anyone with serious skin disorders or other illnesses.

A police report showed mercury and arsenic levels in Buyat Bay were well beyond national standards, but tests by the World Health Organization, Indonesian government agencies and several independent groups found that pollutants in the water were within normal limits.

Newmont stopped mining at its Minahasa Raya mine in August 2004 and is spending US$5.6 million million) on reclamation.

In December 2004, Buyat Bay villagers dropped a US$543 million civil lawsuit against Newmont, but the Indonesian government later filed a US$133 million lawsuit. Newmont settled that case by agreeing to spend $30 million over 10 years on environmental monitoring.

The criminal charges against Ness and Newmont were filed in July 2005.

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