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Reparations Suit Filed In US Court Against S. African Mining Firms - 2003-04-07

U.S. lawyer Ed Fagan has filed a lawsuit against two of South Africa's biggest mining companies. Lawyer Ed Fagan says he is seeking up to $6.1 billion in damages on behalf of workers who were mistreated or wrongfully fired by the South African mining giants during the apartheid era.

The lawsuit targets the world's second largest mining company, Anglo American PLC, and its diamond subsidiary, De Beers.

Mr. Fagan says he also plans to sue the Sasol company, which produces oil from coal, and an American firm that does business with Sasol.

The court cases are being filed in the U.S. states of Nevada and New York. The plaintiffs are employees, or ex-employees, of the companies, who say they were forced to work in inhumane conditions, and fired or abused for taking part in labor rights actions.

After the announcement of the lawsuit's filing on Friday, Anglo American issued a statement saying it strongly rejects Mr. Fagan's attempt to "use U.S. courts to resolve important issues for South Africa's future." The company says any individual reparations decisions should be made through South Africa's democratic institutions, possibly including South African courts, if necessary.

Mr. Fagan has already filed suit against several banks and multi-national companies on behalf of South African apartheid victims. The lawyer is best known for winning a landmark $100 billion settlement from Swiss banks on behalf of Holocaust survivors from World War II.

Some market analysts say, if the plaintiffs win settlements over apartheid, it could spark more class-action lawsuits against big South African companies. One analyst, speaking on South African radio, expressed concern that the proliferation of lawsuits could scare foreign investors away from the country.

The Johannesburg stock exchange took a hit Friday following the news, falling by more than three percent. The overall market has largely recovered, but Anglo and Sasol shares remained under pressure.

Anglo American is the single largest company trading on the Johannesburg exchange, accounting for more than 16 percent of the exchange's overall value.