02.21.14 Spanish prosecutor asks five-year prison term for GTAC’s Williams

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Spanish prosecutor asks five-year prison term for GTAC’s Williams

By RICK OLIVO Staff Writer | Posted: Friday, February 21, 2014 8:00 am

Spanish prosecutors are asking for a five-year, six-month prison term and a fine of 11,700 euros for Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams for his alleged part in the operations of a Spanish copper mine prosecutors charge dumped arsenic into a Spanish aquifer,

The charges include the allegedly illegal construction of tailings ponds with contaminated water, illegal groundwater drawdown and contamination of the Posadas-Gerena aquifer.

The proposed penalties were made public Thursday by the Spanish Language press agency Europa Press, quoting Spain’s second largest newspaper, El Mundo.

According to Europa Press, prosecutors in Seville are requesting the same prison terms for two other former executives at the Cobre Las Cruces copper mine.

Charged along with Williams, who served as Director of Mining for the project until January of 2011, was Francois Fleury, an official with the Canadian parent company, Inmet Mining, who also served as chief executive officer of Cobre Las Cruces, and Paz Cosmen, the company’s environmental director.

A fourth official, Juan Carlos Baquero, the firm’s director of water management, had charges against him dismissed earlier in the process by a Spanish judge.

Cobre Las Cruces, whose name translates to “Copper Crosses,” operates an open-pit copper mining complex by the same name. The project site straddles the municipalities of Gerena, Guillena and Salteras in the province of Seville, in southern Spain, and occupies 2,337 acres of land including both the mine pit and process plant.

The case stems from complaints filed in 2008 by the Spanish Office of Environment and Heritage based on an earlier disciplinary action from the Hydrographic Confederation of Guadalquivir. It alleged unauthorized practices, including withdrawal of 75,000 cubic meters of water from the Niebla-Posadas aquifer, illegal construction of tailings ponds with contaminated water and contamination of the Posadas-Gerena aquifer with arsenic.

According to the Europa Press article, the prosecutor has also asked for liability in the amount of 607,430 euros “for civil liability for damage allegedly perpetrated on the public domain and the necessity for ‘restoration of balance ecologically disturbed.’”

Cobre Las Cruces, which at the time of the alleged offenses was owned by Inmet Mining, has since been taken over by First Quantum Minerals of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Company officials assert that there has been “an absence of any type of crime” in the matter, and said they wanted the matter to be concluded and their image restored.

Europa Press said Company officials have maintained that mining “at no time had affected groundwater” and asserted that they had technical reports backing up their position.

For his part, Williams, quoted in other previously published reports, has denied any involvement with the environmental issues at the Spanish mine, asserting that he left the mine before the issues arose.

Gogebic Taconite spokesman Bob Seitz was contacted for comment on the matter, but said he had not seen the report and declined to give an immediate comment.

Rick Olivo can be reached at: rolivo@ashlanddailypress.net