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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 April 2007, 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK
US mine firm cleared of pollution
Richard Ness, centre, speaks to journalists after his trial in Menado on 24 April 2007
Richard Ness, centre, said he was thrilled by the verdict
An Indonesian court has cleared a US mining executive and his company of polluting a bay on Sulawesi.

Richard Ness, head of Newmont Mining's Indonesian subsidiary, faced a maximum 10-year sentence if found guilty.

The 20-month trial began after local villagers said they had suffered tumours and skin diseases from toxic chemicals dumped into the water.

But the judge decided that the waste from the now-defunct mine did not breach government safety standards.

"We are very relieved," Robert Gallacher, the vice-president of the Indonesian arm of Newmont, told reporters.

"The people of Buyat Bay have suffered as a result of this accusation, and Rick Ness and his family have had an awful time," he said.

Investor confidence

The charges brought against Mr Ness and Newmont alleged that the company dumped dangerous levels of both mercury and arsenic into the waters of Buyat Bay.

Indonesian woman holding a placard of a child alleged to have suffered a skin complaint because of environmental pollution
Some residents had claimed they had suffered skin damage

Complaints from villagers living around the bay included headaches, skin rashes and tumours, which they claim arose from being in contact with mercury and arsenic dumped into the water.

Tests on the water quality of the bay had differing results.

In 2004, a team led by Indonesia's environment ministry said that chemicals from the firm had contaminated sediment in the bay and entered the food chain.

But during the course of the trial several studies, including one backed by the World Health Organisation, found that levels of toxins in the water were well within local and international safety standards.

After weighing the evidence, chief judge Ridwan Damanik concluded that the pollution claims could not be proven.

The result was greeted by cries of joy from Newmont employees. Mr Ness looked relieved but remained calm, although his wife and son burst into tears.

Map illustrating Buyat Bay
Buyat Bay is about 2,000 miles north east of Jakarta
Afterwards, Mr Ness simply told reporters: "I'm thrilled."

About 100 environmentalists and local villagers, gathered outside the court, were less pleased with the decision.

"This is unjust, this is unjust," villager Janiah Ompi told reporters.

Prosecutor Jaksa Purwanta Sudarmadji said he planned to appeal the decision.

The not guilty verdict will be a sigh of relief for foreign investors in Indonesia, according to the BBC correspondent in Jakarta, Lucy Williamson.

Newmont said last month it might reconsider its investments in Indonesia if its executive was found guilty, and other companies were also concerned.

But many foreign firms say they still view Indonesia's legal system as chaotic and corrupt, our correspondent says.




SEE ALSO
Newmont detentions 'not legal'
23 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Jakarta to try US mining workers
08 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesian pollution trial opens
05 Aug 05 |  Business
Indonesia arrests over US mine
24 Sep 04 |  Asia-Pacific

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