Sunday 26 February 2017

Trapped men's families launch legal battle

Jerome Taylor in Santiago

FAMILIES of some of the trapped Chilean miners have launched a legal battle against both the owners of the mine and the government inspectors who allowed it to re-open two years ago despite safety concerns.

A judge has ordered the courts to freeze €1.5m assets of the Compania Minera San Esteban -- the relatively small company which runs the gold and copper mine where the men are trapped -- to cover any future compensation claims.

Relatives say they not looking for financial compensation but instead want people to be held to account for the mine's collapse. Yet figures within Chile's mining industry have accused the family's lawyers of conducting a "witch-hunt" that, they say, could threaten productivity in the world's largest copper exporter.

Accusations

"I'm not thinking of monetary compensation," said Carolina Narvaez, the wife of trapped miner Raul Bustos. "I'm thinking of holding people responsible."

Chief amongst the lawyers' complaints are accusations that the mine was allowed to be re-opened two years ago after a fatal accident that killed two workers. They also accuse the company of accumulating 42 fines over a six-year period from various safety bodies for failing to protect its workers.

Edgardo Reinoso, a lawyer representing 26 families, said someone had to be held responsible. "Luckily they are alive, but the harm that the situation has caused for them and their families is huge," he said.

"We have found assets, there is money coming in, and we asked the judge in Copiapo that it be withheld as a precautionary measure."

The company has warned workers that it may have to file for bankruptcy. It has been lobbying vigorously for government help to keep the mine open. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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