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Buyat Polluters Head to Court

A trial is to begin soon of alleged polluters of Buyat Bay. Walhi hopes the prosecution won't rely solely on police reports.

THE trial of PT Newmont Minahasa Raya on charges of polluting Buyat Bay in North Sulawesi is scheduled to begin early next month. Police dossiers of the case, which were three times rejected by the North Sulawesi Prosecutor's Office for being incomplete, were finally accepted and delivered to the Manado District Court on July 11.

The trial, to be held at the auditorium of the Manado Mayor's Office, will open with Newmont and its president director, Richard Bruce Ness, sitting as defendants. Both are charged with polluting the environment under Article 41 of Law No. 23/1997, liable to a jail term, if convicted, of a maximum 10 years in jail and a maximum fine of Rp500 million.

The uncommon venue of the trial, says presiding judge Yuliana Wullur, was because the court building won't be able to accommodate the big crowd of visitors expected to attend the trial. Security was another consideration.

Other than criminal charges, the defendants are also facing a civil lawsuit from the Indonesian government. In the suit submitted to the South Jakarta District Court in March, the government demanded US$117.68 million in material compensation and Rp150 billion in non-material compensation. The trial in Jakarta is to reopen soon after the parties in dispute failed to reach an agreement on mediation.

Judge Soedarto of the Central Jakarta District Court, who is presiding over the trial, says he has yet to await word from the parties in dispute over the mediation offer by the court. "Until now I have not received any word from the parties," Soedarto told Tempo's Sita Planasari on Wednesday last week. Therefore, Soedarto couldn't give the date when the trial would resume.

Bambang Widjojanto, a lawyer for the government, confirmed that a mediation offer had been rejected. "It's clear there will be no mediation," he told Tempo's Maria Ulfah. Widjojanto is concentrating on the government suit against the defendants. Luhut M. Pangaribuan lawyer for Newmont, says he was also awaiting results of a further offer of negotiation from the government.

Robert Ilat, a member of the prosecution at the Manado District Court, says he was optimistic of proving the charges against Newmont. "Now that the dossiers have been delivered to the court, the prosecution should be able to prove the charges," he says. The prosecution will present results of a laboratory testing by the National Police in Jakarta on samples of pollutants found in the waters of Buyat.

Radja Siregar, researcher at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), says the prosecution's success in presenting its case depends on the charge and evidence it would use in the trial. According to Radja, evidence presented by the police is limited only to water and sediment samples. More varied evidence is to be presented by the Integrated Team on Buyat which was set up by the Environment Department and consisted of representatives from the government, universities, and non-governmental and professional organizations.

Aside from water and sediment samples, the team also studied drinking water, surface water, and marine biota samples from Buyat and waste discharge license issued the mining company. "If evidence presented by the team is used, Newmont will find difficulty evading responsibility," Says Radja.

Newmont's lawyer Pangaribuan says he was ready to face the charge against his client. "The prosecution charges the residents suffered from skin rashes, but that didn't mean the bay was polluted," Pangaribuan told Tempo's Agriceli. "Skin rashes can occur anywhere." Pangaribuan cited findings by researchers that there was no evidence of contamination by mercury and heavy metals in Buyat Bay.

Abdul Manan, Verianto Madjowa

TEMPO, AUGUST 01, 2005-047/P. 42 Heading Law

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