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AGO Washes Its Hands of Lapindo Mudflow Case

The Attorney General’s Office confirmed on Monday that it would not pursue a criminal case in the devastating mud volcano disaster in East Java allegedly involving PT Lapindo Brantas, a company owned by the family of senior minister Aburizal Bakrie.

“We don’t want to repeat the defeat in the environment trial against Newmont,” Attorney General Hendarman Supandji said in a hearing with lawmakers.

He was referring to PT Newmont Minahasa Raya, the local unit of US-based Newmont Mining, which was cleared by a North Sulawesi court in April 2007 of a charge that it dumped toxic waste into Buyat Bay in the province.

“Geological experts gave conflicting opinions about the cause of the mud volcano and we will not bring the case to the court until they reach a common view of the case,” he said.

According to his report to the House of Representatives’ law and politics commission, a group of experts, including two from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) blamed the gas drilling by Lapindo for the mudflow, while another group, including six ITB experts, said the mudflow was triggered by a powerful earthquake centered in Yogyakarta on May 27, 2006.

“There is a legal principle that says when the court is faced with two conflicting opinions with neither supported by strong evidence, the judges should pick the one favoring the defendants,” Hendarman said. “We won’t go to court if we know we will lose.”

His remarks triggered strong reactions from the commission members, who questioned the AGO’s seriousness in seeking legal redress in the case.

“Those experts have differing opinions for certain, but why don’t you prosecute the case and let the court decide?” said Panda Nababan, a senior legislator from the Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). “We have met in this very same room several times to discuss the Lapindo case, but there’s been no progress,”.

“You are worried about losing the case in court, but if the AGO does nothing, Lapindo will win anyway. Do we have a choice here?” another lawmaker said.

Mud has been gushing out of the ground near the Lapindo Brantas gas well since May 29, 2006, inundating hundreds of hectares of residential, industrial and agricultural areas. *

(c) The Jakarta Globe

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