August 19, 2021, New York, New York. — The Marginalised Affected Property Owners (MAPO), a community association seeking to end harmful mining practices at the Koidu Mine in Sierra Leone, filed a petition today in the Southern District of New York asking U.S. courts to help it obtain evidence in its lawsuit against the mine’s owners, Koidu Ltd., its parent Octea Ltd., four other Octea subsidiaries, and their top executives. The Koidu Mine is owned and operated through a complex structure of companies, with ultimate ownership by BSG Resources Limited (BSGR) — the multinational mining conglomerate controlled by disgraced Israeli diamond tycoon Beny Steinmetz.
For years, community members in the Gbense and Tankoro Chiefdoms of Sierra Leone have advocated for safer mining practices, fair relocation policies, and equal distribution of profits from the Koidu Mine. Instead, the Koidu Mine has destroyed their homes and farms, caused pollution and health problems, and devastated their livelihoods, all without paying community members their fair share of revenues. MAPO representative Madam Sia Janet Bayo lamented the destruction of the community: “We used to farm and live in peace, but now our lands and water sources are poisoned and covered in rubble. Our homes are shaken by explosives every day.”
The government of Sierra Leone approved plans for the Koidu Kimberlite Project in 2003. At the time, many criticized the concessionaire for taking advantage of the Sierra Leone government as it emerged from a devastating civil war. Through 2007 and 2008, BSGR assumed full ultimate ownership of the Koidu mine and commenced open-pit blasting, despite protests from the community. In 2011 and 2012, Koidu Ltd. conducted an environmental impact assessment of its operations in Koidu and formulated a Resettlement Action Plan for affected residents, but few were actually resettled.
Fed up with empty promises, MAPO and other community members sued the mine’s owners in Sierra Leone in 2019. The lawsuit claims that BSGR subsidiary Octea Ltd., its subsidiaries, and their executives are responsible for “degradation or destruction of land, destruction of homes and loss of livelihoods … and dumping of toxic mine waste,” among other problems. Plaintiffs are represented by C&J Partners and the Network Movement for Justice and Development, with the support of Advocates for Community Alternatives and the Public Interest Lawyering Initiative for West Africa. Despite Octea’s attempts to obstruct the lawsuit, it is moving forward in the High Court in Makeni, Sierra Leone.
MAPO’s efforts to prove who was responsible for the Koidu Mine’s harmful operations have been hamstrung by BSGR’s complicated web of offshore companies designed to prevent courts and creditors from reaching its assets. MAPO believes that BSGR has produced some helpful evidence in its ongoing bankruptcy proceedings in New York, which allegedly are a sham designed to evade BSGR’s creditors.
Today, EarthRights International filed a request in New York, asking the court to order BSGR and two other participants in the bankruptcy – law firm Cleary Gottlieb, which represents BSGR creditor Vale, and BSGR’s bankruptcy administrators at Alvarez & Marsal – to produce evidence from the bankruptcy for use in the Sierra Leone case. The U.S. Foreign Legal Assistance Statute (FLA) permits U.S. courts to assist foreign litigants in obtaining evidence from companies found in the United States. “Companies, including BSGR and Vale, regularly use the FLA to obtain documents for their litigation in other countries,” said Marco Simons, EarthRights’ General Counsel. “MAPO has an equal right to use this mechanism to obtain evidence and have a fair hearing of their case in Sierra Leone.”
According to Benedict Jalloh, MAPO’s lawyer in Sierra Leone, the underlying case is a critical one, both for accountability of mining companies in West Africa and for the communities suffering from Octea’s behavior, and the Plaintiffs are prepared to pursue every avenue to find the evidence they need. “It’s an issue of accountability for people who deserve to be treated well when their natural resources are being exploited. Octea and the other owners of the Koidu Mine have done their best to dodge our Plaintiffs at every turn. My clients are taking their claims to the United States, where companies hold documents that we believe will show who is responsible for their injuries. We will continue seeking justice from all those who profited from the mine.”
EarthRights is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization that combines the power of law and the power of people in defense of human rights and the environment, which we define as “earth rights.” We specialize in fact-finding, legal actions against perpetrators of earth rights abuses, training grassroots and community leaders, and advocacy campaigns. Through these strategies, EarthRights seeks to end earth rights abuses, to provide real solutions for real people, and to promote and protect human rights and the environment in the communities where we work.
Advocates for Community Alternatives is a non-profit organization that helps West African communities that are threatened by extractive development take control of their own future by providing the skills, advice, and other assistance to enable an alternative model of grass-roots development and undertake legal action to protect their rights and fight for justice.
C and J Partners is a law firm that embodies the best qualities of legal minds: tenacious, adaptable, ready for hard work, and committed to our clients’ best interest. Practicing those home-grown values has made our firm into one of the best in Makeni and Sierra Leone. In every matter, C and J’s primary objective is the development of legal strategies that win. This approach has proven successful beyond our greatest ambitions. It has earned C and J Partners a reputation as a firm of talented trial and appellate lawyers prepared to battle for its clients in both civil and criminal matters. regardless of the district, region, or administrative forum. C and J has previously represented communities in ground-breaking litigation against a mining company in Sierra Leone.
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