July 20, 2011 / 3:58 PM / 6 years ago

Zijin unit settles case over Peru torture claims

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LIMA, July 20 (Reuters) - The Monterrico unit of leading Chinese miner Zijin has agreed to pay compensation to 33 Peruvians who say they were tortured in 2005 after protesting against the company's plan to build a copper mine, lawyers for the plaintiffs said on Wednesday.     The Peruvian office of Zijin Mining Group (2899.HK) (601899.SS), which struck a deal to buy the Rio Blanco copper project from Monterrico in 2007 and then inherited the fallout from the dispute, could not be reached for comment. A Monterrico company official in Hong Kong declined comment.     Monterrico did not admit liability under the settlement, which was struck after the case was scheduled by a U.K. court to go to trial, the lawyers said. The financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed.     "Our clients suffered deplorable mistreatment and were denied justice in Peru," said Richard Meeran of the law firm Leigh Day & Co in London. "This was an extremely costly exercise for Monterrico and constitutes a salutary lesson for multinationals operating in developing countries."     Meeran's firm had previously won an injunction in 2009 around when it filed the lawsuit that froze 5 million pounds of Monterrico's assets.     The plaintiffs alleged the company's management incited local police to attack and harshly treat protesters who mobilized to stop construction of the mine, which they said would cause pollution and hurt water supplies. Plaintiffs said that some company employees participated in the mistreatment.     One protester died after being detained in the 2005 clash and photographs published later in the Peruvian media showed protesters handcuffed with hoods placed over their heads. Some were allegedly beaten, five said they were shot and two women said they were sexually abused over 2-3 days in which they were held.     The history of the Rio Blanco project has been especially bitter. In 2009, at least two workers died when 15-20 armed people, apparently unrelated to the original protesters, attacked the company's mining camp.     Foreign companies and residents in poor towns often argue about mining and oil projects in Peru, one of the world's largest metals exporters.     Human rights groups blame the government for failing to mediate conflicts over resources and say President Alan Garcia has often ignored environmental concerns in his push to lure foreign investment.     The $1.4 billion Rio Blanco copper-molybdenum project, which is located in the northern district of Piura, would produce some 200,000 tonnes of copper concentrate a year if local approvals for its construction could be won.   (Reporting by Terry Wade;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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