Naked City

Mining Their Own Business?

A civil lawsuit brought by Yosefa Alomang, an Amungme tribe member who was tortured by Indonesian troops near Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold's massive Grasberg mine in Irian Jaya, was dismissed last week by an Orleans Parish judge in Louisiana. The suit, filed in 1996, alleged that Freeport was responsible for some of the actions taken by Indonesian troops against Alomang. It was dismissed with prejudice by Judge Michael Bagneris.

The ruling is a major victory for Freeport, which has insisted all along that it is not responsible for any of the actions taken by Indonesian troops. In a press release issued last week, Freeport Senior Vice President Paul Murphy said the company was confident that the case would be dismissed because "the claims have no basis in law or in fact. The plaintiff has failed repeatedly over four years to plead any facts under any theory of law to establish any wrongdoing by FCX." The win in court should give Freeport a PR boost, as the company now has successfully fended off the lawsuit as well as all attempts to depose Freeport officials about their Indonesian operations and their connections to Indonesian officials.

Bagneris' ruling comes just four months after the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a similar federal lawsuit brought by Amungme leader Tom Beanal. That lawsuit, which sought up to $6 billion in damages, was filed about the same time as Alomang's.

The two suits were among a number of suits that have been filed in recent years against American corporations with operations in the Third World and which have allegedly been complicit in a variety of human rights and/or environmental problems. Other suits against Shell Oil, Chevron, Texaco, and Unocal are still pending.

Martin Regan, the New Orleans-based attorney who brought both lawsuits against Freeport, has been criticized for being too hasty in his efforts to file the lawsuit, and for being reluctant to accept help from larger and more experienced law firms that have been involved in international tort claims. Regan did not return calls from the Chronicle.

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