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. Indonesia Clears US Miner In Pollution Trial But Faces Prosecuter Appeals

Complaints from villagers living around the bay included headaches, skin rashes and tumours, prompting a police inquiry and charges against Newmont in August 2005. Studies of waters around the bay have shown conflicting results. A World Health Organisation-backed report and others found no evidence of pollution, but government tests showed high levels of toxins.
by Nabiha Shahab
Manado (AFP) Indonesia, April 24, 2007
A court in Indonesia on Tuesday cleared US mining giant Newmont of dumping tonnes of toxic waste, closing for now a case that risked the nation's efforts to increase foreign investment.

Prosecutors had sought a three-year jail term for company executive Richard Ness in a high-profile case closely watched by international business leaders, environmentalists and the Indonesian government.

Both Ness and the local branch of Newmont, the world's largest gold miner, were acquitted, although prosecutors said they would appeal.

They had been charged with pumping tonnes of waste containing mercury and arsenic into Buyat Bay, which is some 2,300 kilometres (1,400 miles) northeast of Jakarta, from its now defunct mine on Sulawesi island.

Ness and PT Newmont Minahasa Raya were also accused of sickening villagers and poisoning marine life with the waste.

Ness, in court with his wife and son to hear the verdict, said that he was "delighted that justice and truth had prevailed."

"I am thrilled that after two and a half years of false allegations, my name and that of my fellow employees have been cleared and our reputation restored." But he called for organisations that pushed pollution claims against Newmont to be prosecuted. "I do feel that there was a crime committed and many people in the community suffered because of that crime," he told reporters.

Prosecutor Purwanta, who led the 20-month trial in the Manado provincial court on Sulawesi, 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.

Around 100 environmentalists, who had gathered outside the court, chanted slogans against the decision while armed riot police stood guard. Some 100 villagers, both supporters and opponents of Newmont, were also on hand.

"This is unjust," said one, Janiah Ompi, who claims the pollution caused her tumour and eye problems.

"This is proof that justice is difficult to enforce for small people like us in our own country," said villager Anwar Stirman, weeping.

Environmentalists had hoped that a guilty verdict would send a signal to companies operating in Indonesia amid increasing environmental degradation in the resource-rich nation. Complaints from villagers living around the bay included headaches, skin rashes and tumours, prompting a police inquiry and charges against Newmont in August 2005.

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

Judge Ridwan Damanik said evidence presented at the trial was insufficient to prove toxic pollution.

"We conclude that no pollution or environmental degradation took place in Buyat Bay and surrounding areas," he said on behalf of four other judges that heard the case.

"We declare that the defendants be freed from all charges levelled by the prosecutors."

Newmont had always denied the charges, saying it disposed of toxins safely and levels of mercury and arsenic were within acceptable levels.

It had warned a guilty verdict would prompt it to reconsider investing in Indonesia, which is trying to lure foreign firms and overcome an international reputation for corruption and bureaucratic red tape.

"This is positive. Investors will feel confident about the legal system in Indonesia and this is particularly important," said Priyo Pribadi, executive director of the Indonesian Mining Association.

The US embassy said the verdict "will undoubtedly have a beneficial effect on Indonesian and foreign investor confidence."

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

That deal, in which Newmont did not admit wrongdoing, funds environmental monitoring in the bay area as well as projects aimed at health, education and infrastructure.

The environment minister, backed by non-governmental organisations, had earlier launched a separate multi-million dollar law suit against Newmont, which a court in Jakarta rejected in November 2005.

earlier related report
Newmont executive wants justice in Indonesian pollution case
Manado (AFP) April 24 - Newmont executive Richard Ness called on Indonesia Tuesday to prosecute those who fuelled false claims that the US mining giant poisoned a local bay with toxic waste.

Ness welcomed a decision from Indonesian judges to clear him and the firm of pollution charges, saying the verdict on Tuesday had restored their reputation.

"I am thrilled that after two and a half years of false allegations, my name and that of my fellow employees have been cleared and our reputation restored," Ness said in a statement.

But he described as criminal those who pushed claims that Newmont polluted Buyat Bay on Sulawesi island with toxic waste from its now defunct gold mine.

The claims, made in 2004, led to a police investigation and charges against Newmont's local subsidiary and Ness, who faced three years in jail if convicted.

"I have lived in Indonesia for more than 25 years, this is my home, and I am delighted to see justice and truth prevail," he said.

"The question remains shouldn't the perpetrators of this hoax be brought to justice for the sake of the Buyat Bay community who suffered at the hands of these people?"

He said villagers living around Buyat Bay had been deceived into believing that Newmont had polluted their water with mercury and arsenic contained in waste from the north Sulawesi mine, which closed in 2004.

The villagers were split between those who supported Newmont and those who thought the company was behind their illnesses.

"I do feel that there was a crime committed and many people in the community suffered because of that crime," Ness told reporters in Manado separately.

His office later declined to say who should be held responsible, and that Ness was not blaming any villagers.

The high-profile case pitted environmentalists against miners in the resource-rich nation.

Villagers living around the bay have complained over recent years of headaches, skin rashes and tumours, which they blamed on the mine's tailings.

But studies of the water around the bay have given conflicting results.

A World Health Organisation-backed report, and other investigations, found no evidence of pollution, but government tests showed high levels of toxins.

Five judges said Tuesday that insufficient evidence was presented during the 20-month trial to find Newmont guilty of pollution.

earlier related report
US business group applauds Newmont acquittal in Indonesia
US business group applauds Newmont acquittal in Indonesia =(PICTURE)= marker-spx-bg.jpg marker-spx-sm.jpg illustration only the missing link by Staff Writers Washington (AFP) April 24, 2007 The US Chamber of Commerce expressed satisfaction Tuesday after an Indonesian court acquitted Newmont Mining on pollution charges, saying the decision is a positive signal to foreign investors.

The US business group said the ruling would bolster confidence in the judicial system in Indonesia.

Prosecutors had sought a three-year jail term for company executive Richard Ness in a high-profile case closely watched by international business leaders, environmentalists and the Indonesian government.

Both Ness and the local branch of Newmont, the world's largest gold miner, were acquitted, although prosecutors said they would appeal.

They had been charged with pumping tonnes of waste containing mercury and arsenic into Buyat Bay, which is some 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) northeast of Jakarta, from its now defunct mine on Sulawesi island.

The US chamber noted that a World Health Organization study in 2004 concluded that the bay was not contaminated and that neither villagers nor fish showed toxic levels of metals in their bodies.

"The Chamber believes this verdict will help bolster Indonesia's reputation among foreign investors and send a positive signal to future companies who want to invest in the region," a statement from the Washington-based group said.

Newmont said in a separate statement that it was pleased by what it called a "correct" ruling.

"We could not be more pleased that this case was decided on the facts and evidence presented in court," said Newmont chairman and chief executive Wayne Murdy.

"Anyone who followed the evidence presented in this case would have expected this result. It is the correct decision, and there is no factual or legal basis upon which to reasonably dispute this outcome."

Newmont vice president of Asia operations, Robert Gallagher, said he hoped the ruling would end "any residual concern in regard to the condition of Buyat Bay."

He added, "The government and (the company) have established the independent scientific panel that will monitor and report on Buyat Bay for almost another decade, and we are confident that it will confirm what we have always said: there is no pollution."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Junaidi, a 20-year-old fisherman, proudly shows off his catch as children play nearby in the turquoise waters of Indonesia's Buyat Bay. "I would not move anywhere else, where else would you easily get this much fish?" asked Junaidi, pointing to a tub full of fish caught in the bay.

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