Indonesian court clear mining company

A company accused of dumping toxic waste with little regard for public health or the environment has been cleared of all charges following the longest court battle in Indonesian history.

Newmont Mining, the world’s second largest gold miner, was acquitted this week after being accused three years ago of dumping unsafe levels of waste in a bay on Sulawesi Island.

Newmont’s Indonesian division and its top executive in the country, Richard Ness, faced charges which could have led to serious fines for the company and a lengthy jail sentence for Mr Ness.

The not-guilty verdict will be seen as a defeat by some environmental NGOs who wanted the case to demonstrate that Indonesia was serious about enforcing its environmental laws.

But those claiming to be more concerned about due process and an objective judiciary than eco-evangelism will likely be satisfied.

The court case has been closely observed by the world’s financial press, which has generally taken the view that local authorities and regulators in Indonesia have acted antagonistically towards foreign companies and investment and pointed out that the findings of official investigations has not been backed by those of neutral parties.

While anecdotal evidence suggested widespread sickness amongst local people and falling yields for fishermen, monitoring by the World Health Organisation and independent groups from Australia and Japan supported the company’s defence, saying there was no sign of elevated levels mercury and arsenic, by-products of the copper and gold mining process.

The prosecution has said it is unhappy with the result and will being looking to appeal against the judge’s decision.

Sam Bond

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