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Indonesian Activists Report Snoozing Newmont Judges

The judges sitting in Manado District Court cleared in April the local subsidiary of Newmont and one of its executives, Richard Ness, of pumping toxic waste into a pristine bay from its now defunct gold mine on Sulawesi island.
by Staff Writers
Jakarta (AFP) June 21, 2007
Indonesian activists on Thursday submitted a complaint against judges who presided over the pollution trial of US mining giant Newmont, alleging they had dozed off during proceedings. The activists said they gave video recordings to the Supreme Court showing judges were "sleeping, chatting over the phone and among themselves and ignoring witnesses' presentations in court."

Footage aired for reporters here showed a judge appearing to take a catnap while a prosecutor's witness was testifying.

"There is enough evidence to show that the judges in this case violated the (judges') code of conduct and we hope the Supreme Court will respond swiftly," Mas Achmad Santosa, from the Indonesian Centre for Environmental Law (ICEL), told a press briefing.

"How can they judge the case independently and thoroughly if they missed parts of the case?"

The judges sitting in Manado District Court cleared in April the local subsidiary of Newmont and one of its executives, Richard Ness, of pumping toxic waste into a pristine bay from its now defunct gold mine on Sulawesi island.

The waste was alleged to have sickened villagers and poisoned marine life.

Indonesia's highest court has the authority to annul a verdict if it finds evidence that judges were not impartial.

But Santosa said the activists were using the case as "an entry point to appeal for a better justice system -- a system that is independent, objective and fair."

A lawyer for Newmont, Luhut Pangaribuan, told AFP when asked for a comment: "It has nothing to do with us."

He said he did not believe the court's verdict would be affected if the judges were sanctioned for breaking their code of conduct.

Head judge Ridwan Damanik told AFP in April that he and the other four judges had considered all of the evidence during the 20-month trial before reaching their verdict. Three of the judges were replaced during the trial.

Besides ICEL, groups submitting the complaint included environmental watchdog Walhi (Friends of the Earth) Indonesia, the Legal Aid Foundation and the Mining Advocacy Network.

Prosecutors have lodged an appeal in the case.

The verdict was applauded by foreign investors and Newmont, which had always denied the charges.

Environmentalists had hoped the verdict would send a warning to companies operating in Indonesia amid increased environmental degradation.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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