Newmont Is Cleared in Indonesian Pollution Case

An Indonesian court has cleared the local unit of Newmont Mining and the unit's American president of all charges in a high-profile pollution trial, the chief judge said on Tuesday.

The case has been seen as a key test of attitudes towards foreign firms and environmental protection in the country.

"Pollution charges against Newmont Minahasa Raya and Richard Ness cannot be proven," chief judge Ridwan Damanik told the court, referring to the local unit of the U.S. firm and its president.

"They are being relieved from their primary charges, and since the primary charges cannot be proven, other charges cannot be considered," he added.

Analysts had said a defeat for Newmont would have deterred investors from putting their money in the mining sector, which has not seen fresh investment for years.

But the verdict will be viewed as a defeat for some activists who wanted to send a message that Indonesia is serious about enforcing laws to protect the country's rapidly degrading environment.

The company had been accused of releasing toxic substance into a bay near its now-defunct gold mine in North Sulawesi, making villagers sick.

In November, the prosecutor asked for Ness to receive a three-year jail term and a 500 million rupiah ($55,000) fine, and the company to be fined 1 billion rupiah. The maximum sentence Ness could have faced under Indonesian law was ten years.

Newmont and Ness had denied the charges, pointing to studies that found no evidence of pollution.

The U.S. company said last month it might reconsider its investments in Indonesia if its executive was found guilty.

Indonesia has some of the world's largest deposit of gold, tin, nickel and copper, and some of the world's top mining firms such as Freeport-McMoran Copper&Gold and PT International Nickel Indonesia have operations in the country.