Sierra Leone: Communities affected by diamond mining win right to sue OCTÉA Group companies over alleged human rights abuses

Attorneys representing 83 households affected by Koidu Ltd's diamond mining activities filed proceedings to get the right to sue Octéa group companies over alleged human rights abuses, including displacement, property damage, soil and water contamination, loss of income from farming, deaths and injuries after violent repressions of demontrastions. The Koidu mine is owned and operated through a complex corporate structure of Octéa companies, most of which are not registered in Sierra Leone. The plaintiffs relied on Panama Papers documents to argue that Octéa companies and Koidu Ltd operated as one entity. On March 13, 2019 the High Court of Sierra Leone found in favor of the plaintiffs recognising their right to serve lawsuits against all six group companies at Koidu Ltd's registered address in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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26 March 2019

Sierra Leone: Judgment recognises the right of diamond mining affected communities to sue Octéa Group companies jointly in local courts

Author: Evelyn Zheng, Advocates for Community Alternatives

"Sierra Leone communities win right to sue Octéa mining companies jointly in local courts", 14 March 2019.

Plaintiffs from Gbense and Tankoro Chiefdoms near Koidu City in Kono District, Sierra Leone, have won an ex parte ruling allowing them to serve lawsuit documents on six companies of the Octéa Group and their Managing Directors at Koidu Limited’s address in Freetown.  This court order will allow them to sue all six companies together, despite their attempts to avoid service by failing to register in Sierra Leone...In order to commence a lawsuit against the defendants, the plaintiffs first needed to serve the Octéa companies with papers informing them of the legal action...“Most of the defendants had no listed address in Sierra Leone, even though we know they operate here.” Lawyers for the plaintiffs tried to contact the defendants through normal channels but did not receive a response. The lawyers thus filed an originating summons so that the Octéa group could not avoid legal repercussions by hiding behind its corporate structure. The evidence presented to the judge included documents from the Panama Papers in which an Octéa parent company’s bankers discussed sending important documents to the company’s “operational” address that it shares with Koidu Ltd. in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone...“Now we can serve papers on all the defendants at the address of Koidu Ltd., and they won’t be able to argue that they’re all separate entities.”...

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25 March 2019

Sierra Leone: BSG Resources diamond mine faces lawsuit over alleged human rights abuses incl. water pollution & crop destruction

Author: Will Fitzgibbon, International Consortium of Investigative Journalism

"Panama Papers Trail Offers Hope To West African Villagers Seeking Compensation", 11 March 2019.

...Attorneys representing 83 poor households from Sierra Leone’s eastern Kono district appeared before the High Court last week in a groundbreaking case that seeks damages from a diamond mining company that is part of Israeli billionaire Benjamin Steinmetz’s BSG ResourcesVillagers allege that Koidu Ltd. has been complicit in polluting air and well water, destroying crops and homes and provoking violence. Police have killed four villagers and injured others during anti-mine protests since operations began in 2007...

Jalloh and his colleagues’ efforts have been stymied by a legal quirk that makes it difficult to identify the companies with legal responsibility for the mine. In a common practice within the mining industry, the Sierra Leonean assets – which include cash and bank accounts that could be used to fund compensation in the case of a later ruling in the villagers’ favor –  are instead owned by BSG Resources and Koidu Ltd.’s parent company, Octea. Jalloh said Koidu Ltd. could claim that it has no assets in its name, adding, “the consequences are that even if you obtain a judgment, it will be a hollow judgment. “The only way we can overcome that from the onset is to have the courts in Sierra Leone ‘pierce the veil’ and recognize Koidu Ltd. and all the Octea companies as one.”...Jalloh believes that documents from the Panama Papers may be crucial. “Those documents will show that they are one body, one single entity operating in Sierra Leone,” Jalloh said. “And therefore we can bring an action against them.”...In 2016, ICIJ reported on leaked documents from the Panama-headquartered law firm Mossack Fonseca that revealed Koidu Limited was owned through a chain of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Guernsey and Liechtenstein. At the top of the chain was Benjamin Steinmetz’s family foundation...Sierra Leone’s High Court will decide on Wednesday whether to recognize the request to treat as one Koidu Ltd., the Octea group of companies and BSG Resources. If successful, Jalloh and his team will then sue the companies over alleged human rights abuses...

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