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Prosecutors Reject Newmont's Arguments In Indonesia Pollution Trial

File photo of a Newmont mining site in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Manado, Indonesia (AFP) Sep 06, 2005
Indonesian state prosecutors on Tuesday rejected arguments by US mining giant Newmont that the indictments against it are flawed and demanded that judges continue the high-profile pollution trial.

"The indictments fully meet the requirements stipulated by the penal code," prosecutor Rein Tololiu told the district court at Manado in North Sulawesi.

Lawyers for Newmont Minahasa Raya, the Denver-based mining firm's Indonesian subsidiary, and its president Richard Ness last month lodged a series of complaints about the indictments, including a complaint that the case file on which it was based was incomplete.

Ness, 55, and his company are accused of polluting Buyat Bay near a now defunct company mine in North Sulawesi province. Villagers complained that waste dumped in the sea and air caused neurological and skin complaints.

The indictment, Tololiu said, had been well prepared and was "clear, complete and detailed."

The prosecutor also said police were fully within their rights in not including the testimony of some witnesses as requested by Newmont.

The main charges are that Newmont Minahasa Raya illegally and intentionally caused pollution and that Ness, who could face up to 10 years in jail if convicted, did nothing to stop it.

Newmont, the world's biggest gold producer, has consistently denied the charges, saying it disposed of toxins safely and that levels of mercury and arsenic around the mine were well within acceptable levels.

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

Newmont lawyer Luhut Pangaribuan told journalists that the police failure to include the testimony of witnesses favorable to their client in files used to prepare the indictment was "a procedural flaw."

The trial, which opened in Manado on August 5, will resume on September 20 with the judges deciding whether the case should continue.

The government has also filed a civil lawsuit against Newmont seeking 1.24 trillion rupiah (130 million dollars) in damages.

Indonesia risks efforts to improve its reputation as a safe destination for foreign investment by prosecuting Newmont. But environmentalists have welcomed the trial.

Newmont's operations at Buyat ceased in August 2004 shortly before the first allegations of pollution emerged.

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