From: Chris Brummitt, Associated Press
Published September 23, 2004 12:00 AM

Indonesian Police to Question Head of American Mine Over Pollution Claims

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian police summoned the American director and two other foreign staffers of a U.S.-based mining company for questioning this week over the alleged contamination of a bay in eastern Indonesia.


Richard Ness, president director of Newmont Minahasa Raya, the local subsidiary of Denver, Colorado–based Newmont Mining Corp., was ordered to appear Thursday, police Brig. Gen. Suharto said.


A second American, an Australian, and three local staffers will also be asked about claims that the company's gold mine on Sulawesi Island polluted a nearby bay, causing death or sickness to an unspecified number of villagers, he said.


The company has strenuously denied the allegations but said all those summoned would appear for questioning.


"Newmont Minahasa Raya has said all along that we would make ourselves available and cooperate," Ness said in statement. "The president director is no different and I am happy to help in the police investigation in any way I can."


Suharto said the six were suspected of involvement in "corporate crimes in connection with the contamination of Buyat Bay." He did not elaborate.


Police have dispatched investigators to the bay to check for dangerous levels of mercury, which is used in gold mining to separate the metal from the ore.


Some observers suspect the allegations, which have been widely reported in local media, may be part of an attempt to blackmail the company.


The company declined to comment on those suspicions.


"It is difficult to express in words the disgust that we feel regarding the false allegations made concerning Newmont Minahasa Raya operations and the health of the villagers at Buyat Bay," Ness said. "It is not true that NMR operations have affected the quality of the water or the health of the villagers."


The company is already facing a US$555 million suit filed by villagers close to the mine who claim to have been sickened by pollution from it.


Operations at the mine, about 1,300 miles northeast of Jakarta, ceased in August because its gold deposits are depleted.


In trading Monday morning, Newmont Mining shares were up 59 cents at $42.31 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has traded as high as $50.28 in the last 12 months.


Source: Associated Press


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