Indonesian prosecutors charged Newmont Mining Corp. and a mine manager on Monday with dumping heavy metals into a fishing bay

Indonesian prosecutors charged Newmont Mining Corp. and
a mine manager on Monday with dumping heavy metals into a fishing bay, moving
the closely watched case toward trial.

The Denver-based company and Richard Ness, 55, manager of the Minahasa gold
mine, face criminal charges in an indictment filed in Indonesian court on
Monday, Newmont spokeswoman Heatheryn Higgins said.

The international business community views the case as a key test of the
political and investment climate in Indonesia.

Newmont officials in Denver had not yet seen the indictment but deny the
company or Ness did anything wrong, Higgins said.

The action against Ness had been expected since last week, when prosecutors
said he would be charged but not five other Newmont officials accused in the
pollution probe. Criminal charges against Newmont had been anticipated for
months, and the company also has been negotiating with the government to
settle its civil case against the company.

‘The charges were filed on Monday, but we haven’t been officially notified,’
Higgins said. ‘There is no pollution in our operations in Indonesia, and we
have committed no crime. We will defend ourselves and Richard Ness vigorously
in court.’ A Newmont lawyer in Indonesia told the Associated Press that the
company and Ness were charged with polluting and damaging the environment,
a crime that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of
up to $78,000.

Ness’ attorney in Denver, Richard Kornfeld, also has not seen the indictment.
Kornfeld planned to depart for Indonesia today to discuss the charges with
Ness and lawyers representing him and Newmont.

Kornfeld said he expects a trial to begin in as little as four weeks in
the northeast Indonesian city of Manado. The mine and Manado are on the Indonesian
island of Sulawesi.
 
In the interim, Newmont and Ness will file responses to the charges. A panel
of three judges is expected to have a hearing within two to three weeks to
consider the charges and the responses, and to set a trial date, Kornfeld
said.

‘He’s very concerned,’ Kornfeld said of Ness. ‘He takes some comfort in
the fact that he knows he’s done nothing wrong.

‘All you can do is hope and pray they will follow their own procedures and
afford you whatever rights you have under the law,’ he said.

Ness’ wife is Indonesian, and they have five children. He has lived in Indonesia
for about 20 years and is a convert to Islam, Kornfeld said.

The other men — an American, an Australian and three Indonesians — remain
under travel restrictions that keep them primarily in Indonesia, Kornfeld
said.

The government has been investigating Newmont on pollution charges for about
a year. Villagers in the Buyat Bay near the Minahasa mine complained of mercury
poison last summer, though no evidence of that has been found.

Several scientific studies have indicated the bay’s water and fish are not
contaminated by heavy metals. But those studies have found high levels of
arsenic in the bay where Newmont dumped millions of tons of mine waste between
1996 and 2004.

Newmont, which operates a larger gold and copper mine on the island of Sumbawa
in the south-central portion of the Indonesian archipelago, says it is not
responsible for contamination of the bay.

Last month, 68 families in the village relocated to a new village about
four hours away. The move and purchase of new land was paid for by a group
of nonprofit organizations.

ENVIRONMENTAL CASES: Indonesian prosecutors indicted Newmont Mining Corp.
and a mine manager Monday for allegedly dumping heavy metals into a fishing
bay. Below are some companies indicted in the U.S. for environmental pollution
and the outcomes of their cases.

–Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe: A 35-count federal indictment from the
Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division charged the
Phillipsburg, N.J., cast-iron pipe maker with discharging chemicals into the
Delaware River and maintaining a dangerous workplace contributing to the
death and maiming of employees. The firm avoided fines in May by making $9.3
million in plant improvements.

–Central Industries: A rendering plant jointly owned by several Mississippi-based
poultry processors was fined $14 million by the U.S. Justice Department in
November 2000 for repeatedly dumping poorly treated wastewater into Shockaloe
Creek, a Pearl River tributary.

–Koch Industries: Koch was indicted by a federal grand jury in September
2000 for 97 counts of environmental crimes at a Corpus Christi, Texas, oil
refinery. It pleaded guilty and paid a $20 million penalty.

–Louisiana-Pacific Corp.: The nation’s biggest manufacturer of a plywood
substitute pleaded guilty in Colorado in May 1998 to pollution violations
and agreed to pay $37 million in penalties. The Portland, Ore.-based company
was fined $5.5 million under the Clean Air Act for high emissions at a plant
that makes floorboards and siding in Olathe.

–Summitville mine: Industrial Constructors Corp. paid $20 million to the
Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado’s Summitville cleanup fund in
February 2002 for violating the Clean Water Act and other federal statues
at the mine.

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