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Peruvian torture victims obtain worldwide freezing injunction over mining company assets

Peruvian claimants allege that they were tortured by police whilst protesting at Rio Blanco copper mine

Detained Peruvian protesters

19 October 2009

Following a fully contested hearing in July 2009, the UK High Court has ordered a freezing injunction for £5 million against London-registered multinational mining company, Monterrico Metals Plc. The injunction was obtained by a group of 31 indigenous Peruvians who allege that in August 2005 they were tortured by the Peruvian police assisted by mine employees and mine security guards, following their environmental protest at Monterrico’s Rio Blanco copper mine in Peru (close to the Ecuador border).

The claimants, including two women, allege they were detained for three days, when they were handcuffed, hooded, beaten and humiliated at the mine site. They claim that they have long-term psychological injuries. One protester, whose widow is a claimant in the case, bled to death after being shot by Peruvian police. The publication of dramatic photographs of the protestors in the Peruvian media in January propelled the case into the spotlight.

The claimants and other witnesses allege that the company was integrally involved with the police in directing, coordinating and assisting in the actions at the mine site against the protesters. Monterrico denies this. In March 2009, Peruvian prosecutors accused the police of torture but cleared the mining company and Forza of wrongdoing. Peruvian human rights groups denounced the findings as incomplete.

Legal proceedings, seeking compensation from Monterrico and its Peruvian subsidiary Rio Blanco Copper SA, were commenced in the English High Court on 2 June 2009.

Monterrico

Monterrico was incorporated in England and purchased in 2007 by the Xiamen Zijin Tongguan Investment Co Ltd (a Chinese consortium), when it shifted its corporate headquarters from London to Hong Kong. Monterrico’s principal asset is the Rio Blanco mine. Monterrico owns all the shares in Copper Corp Limited (Cayman Islands); Copper Corp Limited owns all the shares in Rio Blanco Copper Limited (Cayman Islands); Rio Blanco Copper Limited owns 99.98% shares in Rio Blanco Copper SA (Peru). Rio Blanco Copper SA owns the Mine.

In May 2009, Monterrico had announced an intention to de-list from the AIM UK stock exchange on 3 June 2009. It is accepted that this was for genuine commercial reasons and that there was no intention to dispose of assets in relation to these claims, but there were concerns that the transfer of assets out of the UK might make the claimant’s legal action here futile.

On 2 June 2009, a freezing injunction was granted to the Claimants by the High Court. This prohibited Monterrico from disposing of assets to an extent that would leave Monterrico with less than £7.2 million. The injunction application was made in the absence of Monterrico. A further hearing occurred on 8/9 July, with both parties present when Monterrico argued there was no justification for freezing its assets as the claimants did not have an arguable case against Monterrico. Monterrico said it could not be held responsible for the conduct of the police and vigorously denies that its officers or employees had any involvement with the alleged abuses.

Hong Kong solicitors, Gall & Lane, were then instructed on behalf of the claimants. On 5 September a freezing injunction was granted by the Hong Kong High Court over Monterrico’s assets in Hong Kong.

On 16 October 2009, Mrs Justice Gloster ruled that the Claimants had a ‘good arguable case’ against Monterrico and that company assets of £ 5 million should remain frozen.

Richard Meeran of Leigh Day & Co said: "From the evidence we have seen I believe that it is inconceivable that the company did not know of the protesters’ harsh treatment during their three day ordeal at the Rio Blanco mine. There is no evidence that I have seen of the company taking any steps to prevent these actions. On the contrary, it would appear to be the case that the company was working in cahoots with the police. The principle that multinationals are held legally accountable for human rights violations occurring at their overseas operations is vital. Without this freezing injunction, access to justice would effectively have been denied"

For further information contact Richard Meeran on 0207 650 1200 or +447507798358

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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