Sierra Leone villagers target multi-nationals
Publish date: 14 March 2019
Issue Number: 4658
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Villagers in Sierra Leone hope documents from the Panama Papers scandal will force a foreign-owned company to compensate them for alleged pollution, forced removal, health complaints and human rights violations. Attorneys representing 83 poor households from the eastern Kono district have appeared in the High Court in a ground-breaking case that seeks damages from a diamond mining company that is part of Israeli billionaire Benjamin Steinmetz's BSG Resources. Villagers 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. Witness statements have been obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). A lawsuit alleging that Octea, Koidu’s holding company, avoided paying $684 000 in property taxes was dismissed in 2016 due to a legal technicality. Responding to questions as part of ICIJ's 2016 Panama Papers investigation, BSG Resources said ‘it uses offshore companies and related structures as part of its legitimate and fiscally responsible tax planning’. The court hearing marks the first step in persuading judges to allow villagers to take legal action against Koidu, Octea and BSG Resources as one entity.