Indonesia Police Submit Newmont Case to Prosecutors
JAKARTA, Indonesia A pollution case involving U.S. gold miner Newmont Mining Corp. has been passed to prosecutors, Indonesian police said on Thursday, which could lead to charges against company officials accused of dumping toxic waste.
The investigation into complaints that an Indonesian unit of Denver, Coloradobased Newmont, the world's largest gold mining firm, dumped toxic waste that poisoned local residents became a diplomatic issue after five employees of the local unit an Australian, an American, and three local mine officials were detained.
The unit's president, another U.S. citizen, was questioned.
The U.S. embassy in Jakarta has said the detentions were inappropriate and could hurt Indonesia's investment climate.
Criticisms of the legal system rank high among business complaints about Indonesia, where foreign direct investment fell 30 percent in the first eight months of 2004 from the same period last year.
Indonesian police say they had submitted dossiers on all six of the PT Newmont Minahasa Raya officials to prosecutors.
"The (North Sulawesi) prosecutor's office should receive it today as we sent it yesterday," said Suharto, director of the national police special crimes unit.
The case centers around accusations that mine operations dumped toxic waste into Buyat Bay in North Sulawesi. Villagers who ate fish from the bay became sick.
Newmont denies any wrongdoing, saying it followed all regulations and kept the government informed of its activities.
Under Indonesian law, police outline their cases in dossiers sent to prosecutors, who then decide whether to lodge charges, a process that can take several weeks.
Mining at the North Sulawesi site stopped in late 2001, but the company continued processing stockpiled ore until August this year, after which it began reclamation, monitoring, and management activities it says will continue for at least three years.
Charges of violating environmental regulations carry jail terms of up to 15 years if people are proven to have died or become seriously ill as a result of pollution, police say.
Australian Phil Turner, manager for production and maintenance at the mine; U.S. citizen Bill Long, the Minahasa site manager; and three Indonesians have been detained since last month. Unit president Richard Ness has been undergoing questioning but has not been detained due to health reasons.
The firm's lawyer, Luthfi Yazid, said it has asked police to let the five men leave jail but require them to stay in the city.
Asked about the request, Suharto said, "We will take into account results from the prosecutor's office. I should have the answer tomorrow."
Tests taken by Newmont, independent groups, and government agencies have come up with varying readings on pollution in the bay. There are also disputes over whether any pollution came from Newmont or from other operators in the area.
A study from the World Health Organization and Japan's Institute for Minamata Diesease found mercury levels in individuals, water, and fish samples near the mine were not unusual, Indonesia's health ministry has said.
The case has alarmed foreign miners already concerned about the growing difficulty of doing business in Indonesia's outlying regions. Investment in the sector has slumped over vague regulations, illegal mining, and tough environmental rules.