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Indonesia Environmentalists to Lodge Bias Complaints Against Judges Who Cleared U.S. Miner of Pollution Charges

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesian environmentalists said Wednesday they will lodge complaints of bias against judges who cleared US mining giant Newmont this week of dumping tonnes of toxic waste.

Chalid Muhammad, of the Friends of the Earth (Walhi), accused the five judges of siding with Newmont during a lengthy trial that was closely watched by foreign investors.

"It was obvious that the judges were on Newmont's side. Instead of using witnesses provided by prosecutors, the judges preferred to call on witnesses from Newmont," said Muhammad.

The judges found Newmont and one of its executives not guilty Tuesday of charges of pumping waste into Buyat Bay from its now defunct gold mine in Sulawesi.

It allegedly sickened villages and poisoned marine life.

The verdict was cheered by foreign investors and Newmont, which had always denied the charges, saying it disposed of toxins safely and that levels of mercury and arsenic were within acceptable levels.

Environmentalists had hoped the verdict would send a signal to companies operating in Indonesia amid increased environmental degradation.

They told a press conference in Jakarta that official complaints would be lodged with a Supreme Court body charged with overseeing judges' code of conduct and ethics.

"The judges are thought to have violated their code of conduct and ethics," Muhammad said.

"I am optimistic the body will take action against the judges," said environmental legal expert Mas Ahmad Santosa. He added that the Supreme Court body has the authority to annul a verdict if it found evidence that judges were not impartial. The Supreme is Indonesia's highest court.

Head judge Ridwan Damanik told AFP Tuesday he and the other judges had considered all of the evidence during the 20-month trial before reaching their verdict.

Meanwhile about 80 villagers, who say they developed illnesses from the waste, rallied outside the prosecutor's office in North Sulawesi, ElShinta radio reported.

The lead prosecutor has said he plans to file an appeal against Tuesday's verdict within 14 days.

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