From: Reuters
Published December 18, 2007 03:13 AM

Indonesian court clears Newmont in pollution suit

JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian court has cleared the local unit of Newmont Mining Corp. over pollution allegations filed in a civil case by an environmental group, the chief judge said on Tuesday.

Indonesian environmental group, Walhi, had accused Newmont in a suit filed at the South Jakarta court in March of carelessly disposing of mining tailings causing environmental problems and endangering the health of the community around the firm's now defunct gold mine in North Sulawesi province.

But the South Jakarta court said Walhi, which in the suit had called for Newmont to repair any damage to the environment and apologize in national media, could not prove that PT Newmont Minahasa Raya had polluted a bay near the mine.

"The plaintiff (Walhi) could not prove that Newmont polluted the environment, sickening fish and damaging coral reefs," presiding judge I Ketut Manika said.

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This was the Newmont's second win in an Indonesian court over the pollution allegations. In April, a court cleared PT Newmont Minahasa Raya and its president Richard Ness over criminal charges related to the alleged dumping of toxic waste into Buyat bay in a 20-month trial.

The prosecution filed an appeal in late May to the Supreme Court in a bid to overturn the ruling. Newmont's Indonesian unit and Ness have asked the Supreme Court to reject that appeal.

The pollution cases have received widespread attention as a key test of attitudes towards foreign firms and environmental protection in the world's fourth most populous nation.

Indonesia's Environment Ministry said in 2004 that arsenic and mercury content in waste dumped by Newmont had contaminated sediment and entered the food chain.

But other tests failed to find abnormal pollution levels.

Newmont and Ness have denied the charges, pointing to the studies that have found no evidence of pollution.

Last year Denver-based Newmont settled a civil case without admitting wrongdoing and agreed to pay $30 million to an environmental foundation in North Sulawesi.

(Reporting by Telly Nathalia, Writing by Fitri Wulandari, Editing by Ed Davies)

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