Newmont Mining accused of negligence
December 24, 2004
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia’s environment minister charged Friday that U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corp. “cut corners” to boost profits at its Indonesian gold mine and expressed confidence the government will win a criminal case accusing executives of causing pollution.
“We will have a ruling that is favorable for us,” Rachmat Witoelar told The Associated Press. “I am very sure that we have a very strong case.”
The case is just the latest problem for Denver-based Newmont, the world’s largest gold mine company with operations on five continents. It has faced a string of pollution accusations in Peru, Turkey and Nevada.
Prosecutors say five executives – an American, an Australian and three Indonesians – will soon be charged with corporate crimes in relation to the alleged dumping of heavy metals near Newmont’s now-closed Buyat Bay gold mine in central Sulawesi province. If found guilty, they could face up to 15 years in prison.
Dozens of people living close to the bay have complained of skin diseases, unexplained lumps and tumors that police and prosecutors say are the result of pollution from the mine. Villagers have filed a $543 million civil suit against the company.
Witoelar said a recent admission by Newmont that it released 33 tons of waste mercury into the air and the water at the mine was part of a larger pattern of “gross negligence” at the facility.
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“They tried to cut corners (to make) more profits,” he said. “It’s very serious and shows ill will. They knew about (releasing mercury) but they did not warn us properly.”
Newmont’s chief executive, Wayne Murdy, told AP on Thursday that the mercury release was well below Indonesia’s emission standards and said it caused no harm to villagers. He also insisted the government was aware of the leaks.
“The Newmont people are in denial,” Witoelar said. “They have been guilty of worsening the environment to the effect that the population has suffered.”
Environmental activists long charged that foreign mining operations in Indonesia skirt pollution laws.
Witoelar said his ministry would announce on Monday a “black list” of 43 companies, including several multinational firms, suspected of polluting. The companies, which include paper, petrochemical and mining outfits, will be given six months to clean up their facilities or face legal action, he said.