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The trial for compensation for the 'Aznalcóllar case' will be held 25 years after the ecological tragedy


The judge sets the oral hearing for 2023 after the mining company refused to pay the 89 million that the Board claims for the environmental disaster

The ecological catastrophe of Aznalcóllar (Seville) that in 1998 caused the dumping of five million cubic meters of toxic sludge in the surroundings of Doñana will be judged 25 years after the disaster, in July 2023. The judicial labyrinth of the case will finally be able to tell with a ruling that determines whether the mining multinational Boliden must pay 89 million to the Andalusian Board (PP) for the contamination of 4,643 hectares that caused the rupture of the mining waste pond, even if it is a quarter of a century later.

This Thursday the Court of First Instance 11 of Seville has held the preview of the civil case for the lawsuit filed by the regional government to get the mining company to pay the bill for the environmental cleaning of the Agrio and Guadiamar rivers, contaminated after being flooded by the tide of mud and heavy metals, and that left 37 tons of dead fish.

After listening to the opposing parties, Judge José Manuel Martínez has set July 4 as the start date of the trial to finally determine whether Boliden should pay the millionaire sum or can avoid it.

The key that the Board has wielded in the room is article 81 of the Mining Law, which determines that the owner of an exploitation is responsible for "damages and losses" caused by their extraction work.

In parallel, the Executive understands that the international group Boliden, to which its already dissolved Spanish subsidiary Boliden Apirsa belonged, must face the payment in the absence of the company that operates the mine, reopened in 2015 by another company.

On the opposite bench, the mining firm's lawyers have argued that when the disaster occurred in 1998 there was no law that required companies to respond for environmental damage, which came much later, in 2007, the Responsibility Law Environmental.

"We deeply regret the accident, but we are here to decide the reimbursement action on the restoration," said José Miguel Fernández, Boliden's lawyer.

Poster against the Boliden mining company, this Thursday in Aznalcóllar (Seville), where the ecological disaster occurred 24 years ago.


The trial will initially have six days (between July 4 and 20) for 13 interrogations, 12 witnesses - most of whom are Board technicians - and an expert, who will testify to shed light on the management of the environmental disaster.

The magistrate has ruled out that the Board can provide an expert report delivered last July on the cleaning, in addition to other documents and experts proposed by the Executive, which instead has allowed the proposal of 12 technicians and managers in replanting and recovery of the contaminated land.

Among them stands out the general secretary of the environmental organization WWF, Juan Carlos del Olmo, while César Nombela, former president of the Higher Center for Scientific Research (CSIC), has been rejected by the judge.

The environmental repair of the land at the gates of Doñana included the regrowth of the tailings pond, as well as the creation of a green corridor that now crosses the Guadiamar River.

Boliden considers that many of the works carried out exceed the repair of the damage and that, even if the justice system considered him civilly liable, he should never contribute those expenses included in the 89 million bill.

Lawyers for Boliden and its subsidiaries Boliden AB and Boliden BV, from the Uría y Menéndez law firm, have said that the direct economic impact of the disaster on the Swedish firm was 115 million, and that its Spanish subsidiary spent 80 million for the removal of sludge , an amount not covered by insurance, before the mine closed in 2001.

The Board's lawyer has argued that the multinational must respond for the contamination caused by its Spanish subsidiary thanks to the doctrine of lifting the veil.

This legal thesis defends that before the debts of the companies, it is necessary to appeal to partners or people who direct them to circumvent the business networks for abuses of the "legal personality" in damage to others.

"Boliden Apirsa, AB and BV are not a corporate group, but rather make up a single owner of the Aznalcóllar mining activity," argued the Board's lawyer.

The issue will be resolved in sentencing, the judge clarified this Thursday.

Parallel to this civil lawsuit, the Ministry for the Ecological Transition won its economic claim before Boliden in the Supreme Court for the 43 million that was spent on cleaning, but the company evaded payment because it declared bankruptcy and is now pending what is resolved by the Mercantile Court 1 of Seville, which instructs its insolvency proceedings, paralyzed pending the civil process.

In other words, until today the Swedish multinational has avoided paying the central and regional administrations for the joint invoice of 133 million.

Aerial view of the Aznalcóllar reservoir breaking in 1998.

The case has been a judicial gibberish because in criminal proceedings the justice was unable to point out guilty parties after acquitting 21 imputed technicians;

Later, the civil proceeding was initiated, which reached the Supreme Court and in 2013 (15 years after the accident) it returned to the starting point when its Jurisdiction Conflicts Chamber decided that the matter was not contentious-administrative but civil and, therefore, it had to return to the same Court of First Instance 11 where it began.

In 2016, the Board began to secretly negotiate with Boliden for six years, until a year ago it decided to break off the unsuccessful talks in the face of the pyrrhic economic offer offered by the mining company.

The Swedish giant, with 1,078 million operating profit and 6,000 employees last year, responded on Thursday that it is "taking steps to reach a decision on pending economic issues."

“We are satisfied that the cleanup was successful and with the times established by the court.

We are optimistic about this lengthy process that is close to completion”, said its communication director, Klas Nilsson, in a written response.

Ecologists in Action has criticized the fact that the multinational was aware of the structural flaws that the raft had years before the disaster, which were even denounced on Canal Sur by a mining engineer.

“Boliden has been playing the Swede for almost 25 years and has always been fully aware of the risk of breakage of the raft, as he was aware of its structural defects.

Despite this, he did not do anything at all for at least the five years prior to the disaster”, criticized Isidoro Albarreal, from the environmental organization's mining area.

The 25-year judicial labyrinth, whose light can be seen from this Thursday, will foreseeably end in the Supreme Court within five years after the sentence that the Court of First Instance 11 of the Andalusian capital will dictate within a year and the subsequent ruling of the Court of Seville.

In the event that the Board loses its lawsuit before the Supreme Court, it will still have the letter to go to Swedish justice to claim payment, since for the Scandinavian country the owners of a mine in the face of an environmental disaster are responsible forever, according to admitted Anders Sand, coordinator of Boliden's research and development area.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2022-09-29

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