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US Mining Company Asks Indonesian Court to Dismiss Pollution Charges


The world's biggest gold mining company, U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corp., has asked an Indonesian court to dismiss pollution charges against its local unit and the unit's American president.

The Indonesian government alleges PT Newmont Minahasa Raya violated environmental laws by dumping mercury and arsenic into Buyat Bay on Indonesia's Sulawesi Island, causing health problems for residents nearby.

Newmont denies that the company caused any pollution and on Friday asked the court to dismiss the case. It says the investigation did not include environmental experts as required by Indonesian law, and Newmont was not allowed to present evidence to the investigators.

Newmont Minahasa Raya's president director, Richard Ness, was charged along with the company, and faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of around $68,000 if convicted.

Mr. Ness says the indictment is legally deficient, as it does not detail what he is alleged to have done. "Neither myself nor my lawyers were all that clear of why we were being charged and what criminal acts that we had been accused of," he said. "Mainly because none of the regulatory agencies involved in mining or environmental management ever even notified the company that there was any indicator of any pollution, and I for one have never observed any indication of pollution or any harm to the environment in Buyat Bay."

Newmont Minahasa Raya opened the mine in Sulawesi around 2,000 kilometers northeast of Jakarta in 1996, but closed it two years ago after its reserves were depleted. However, the company continued processing ore until the mine was shut down on 31 August 2004.

The case is being closely watched by potential international investors, who have long been concerned about instability and corruption in Indonesia. It is also being watched by environmental groups, who say miners have been allowed for too long to pollute Indonesia.

Ade Widyanto of the private Indonesian environmental group Jatam, which works with people adversely affected by mining, says the trial is the right step for the government to take. "It's such a good step by the government, because this is the first time the government takes a legal action against the corporations who have been polluting the environment," he said. "It's never happened in Indonesia."

A ruling on Newmont's motion is expected by mid-September.

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