From: Michael Casey, Associated Press
Published August 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Newmont Executive Confident about Winning Pollution Trial in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia — An American who heads the Indonesian branch of the world's largest gold producer goes on trial Friday, insisting he and his company will be cleared of charges that they polluted a bay and sickened villagers.

The Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp.'s Indonesian subsidiary, Newmont Minahasa Raya, has been accused of causing dozens of residents on the island of Sulawesi to develop skin diseases and other illnesses.

Richard Ness, head of the Indonesian branch, is charged under the country's environmental law that makes it a crime to intentionally or negligently engage in acts that result in pollution, and faces 10 years in jail and a fine of $78,000 if found guilty.

Ness, of Thief River Falls, Minn., said Tuesday the company's gold mine on Sulawesi caused no environmental harm and a "fair, open and transparent hearing of the facts" at the trial opening Friday will prove that.

"Everybody involved in this firmly believes we have not done anything wrong. There is no pollution," said Ness, 55. "I am very confident about what the evidence shows. We will be exonerated."


Newmont began operations at the site 1,300 miles northeast of Jakarta in 1996, and stopped mining two years ago after extracting all the gold it could. But the company continued processing ore until Aug. 31, 2004, when the mine was permanently shut.

Some residents allege that mine tailings dumped in the Buyat Bay led to skin diseases and tumors, but tests have produced conflicting results.

The World Health Organization and an initial Environment Ministry report found the water unpolluted.

A government study released in May found that heavy metal traces in villagers living close to the mine were within normal levels, although slightly higher than those living far from the facility.

Newmont -- the world's largest gold producer -- has been embroiled in a yearlong legal battle in Indonesia. The government has also filed a $133.6 million civil suit in connection with the same mine, but that case is pending.

The mining giant has filed its own lawsuits against Indonesians it accuses of spreading false allegations about its activities in Sulawesi -- among them that pollution killed dozens of residents.

A judge Tuesday ruled that one of those Indonesian activists, Rinolda Jamaludin, was guilty of defamation and ordered him to pay $750,000.

Supporters of Jamaludin tossed tomatoes, oil and paint at the judges after the verdict was read. The activist does not have the money to pay the damages, making the ruling largely symbolic.

Source: Associated Press

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