Newmont executive: Investors closely watching Indonesian pollution trial

JAKARTA (AP): An American gold mining executive said Friday investors were closely watching to see if he would be found guilty of dumping dangerous levels of mercury and arsenic-laced waste into an Indonesian bay, sickening villagers.

Richard Ness, president director of Newmont Mining Corp.'s local subsidiary, insists he and the company are innocent. He faces a maximum 10 years in prison and a US$165,000 (euro126,700) fine.

A verdict is expected on Tuesday.

Ness, 57, said he was confident waste rock, known as tailings, dumped into Buyat Bay by Newmont's now-defunct mine on Sulawesi island did not exceed standards outlined in a 2000 permit or cause villagers to become ill.

"A guilty ruling would contradict several scientific studies that found no evidence of pollution," he said, adding that the Denver, Colorado-based company monitored the bay for years beforestarting operations and saw no significant changes in water quality.

Newmont began operations in Sulawesi in 1996, but stopped mining in 2004 after extracting all the gold and ore it could.

Last year, the company reached a $30 million out-of-court settlement with Indonesia's government to defuse a separate civil suit over alleged toxic pollution in Buyat Bay, some 2,000 kilometers (1,300 miles) northeast of Jakarta.

Ness said foreign investors, who have long expressed concern about legal uncertainties in Indonesia, were closely watching the case. He said much also depends on the new mining law, which isstill under debate in parliament. (**)
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