Newmont Exec Sues NYTimes

JAKARTA ~ An executive from American mining giant Newmont sued The New York Times for more than US$64 million this week over claims the firm dumped toxic waste into an Indonesian bay.

Richard Ness said he sued the newspaper and one of its reporters for defamation in an Indonesian court over stories published in 2004 that claimed Newmont polluted the bay with tons of waste from its now-defunct gold mine.

The suit comes less than a month after Ness and the local unit of Newmont were cleared by Indonesian judges of criminal charges that they polluted Buyat Bay with arsenic and mercury from the mine.

“The New York Times claimed that we killed fish and poisoned people and I think the court’s ruling last month proved that we didn’t,” Ness told the AFP newswire.

“I want to see an apology on page one of the newspaper that clears my name and our image,” he said.

Prosecutors had wanted to jail Ness for three years for the alleged pollution in Sulawesi in a drawn-out case closely watched by foreign investors and environmentalists.

Ness claimed that the stories were inaccurate, unfair and had contributed to the charges being brought against him and Newmont.

He said the allegations and subsequent court case had taken their toll on his personal life but he needed to continue fighting to clear his name.

Ness said he was seeking about $64 million in immaterial damages and another $894,000 in material damages.

A Newmont spokesman said Ness was acting alone, not on behalf of the company.

“This lawsuit is being made by Rick Ness rather than the company because he feels the newspaper did not investigate the claims properly,” spokesman Rubi Purnomo told AFP.

“He is seeking a public apology from the newspaper to himself and to the Indonesian government, which he feels has been misled,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from the newspaper.

The stories, written by reporter Jane Perlez, brought international attention to Buyat Bay and were published around the time that police started to investigate complaints of pollution from villagers living near the bay.

The villagers said pollution was killing marine life and making them ill, and complained of headaches, skin rashes and tumors.

Prosecutors, backed by the Indonesian government, subsequently laid charges against Newmont and Ness in August 2005.

Newmont had always denied the charges, saying it disposed of toxins safely and that levels of mercury and arsenic were within acceptable levels.

Studies of waters around the bay have shown conflicting results. A World Health Organisation-backed report and others found no evidence of pollution, but government tests showed high levels of toxins.

An official at the Central Jakarta District Court confirmed the case was lodged on Tuesday.

Ness posted an entry on Tuesday on his son’s website blog that read: “Over the past two and a half years we have been reacting and responding to the unfair accusations leveled against us but it may now be our turn to take some action.”

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