19 October 2009

On Her Majesty's Service: Richard Ralph and Monterrico Metals: 'British mining company faces damages claim after allegations of torture in Peru'

"British mining company faces damages claim after allegations of torture in Peru". So reads the headline from the Guardian's main article.

But one has to go the Guardian Environment pages to find the full story though:

"The British mining corporation Monterrico's plan was to create Peru's second largest copper mine at Rio Blanco, a vast site in the Huancabamba mountains in the north-west of the country...the mine in the province of Piura was to have increased output by around a quarter, producing exports worth up to $1bn (£600m) a year for the next 20 years.
In law, the corporation was required to obtain the consent of two-thirds of the local population before embarking on mining but – with the apparent encouragement of the government – it tried to press ahead without it This resulted in a series of violent confrontations.
In August 2005, a group of protesters marched to the mine to find police waiting for them. Twenty-eight of the protesters say they were detained, hooded with hands tied behind their backs, beaten with sticks and whipped.
Hundreds of people had converged on the mine from communities scattered across the region. Some had walked for several days to reach the site. Once there, they say, they were attacked by the mine's security guards and by contingents of the Peruvian federal police firing teargas.
Two protesters were shot in their legs, one man lost an eye to gunshot wounds and a farmer called Melanio Garcia, 41, suffered a fatal gunshot. Photographs allegedly taken by a Monterrico supervisor, which the protesters say support their allegations of abuse by the police, show Garcia lying on the ground, apparently alive but badly injured. Several other pictures taken 30 hours later, according to their time and date stamps, clearly show Garcia to be dead."
Monterrico Metals is, as Otto at IKN writes "the company is getting its ass sued in a British court of law for multimillions" as according to the Guardian:

"Richard Meeran, of Leigh Day, the London law firm bringing the high court case, said the evidence of torture was incontrovertible and that it was inconceivable the company could have been unaware of what was happening on its site.
"The company must have been aware of the inhuman treatment of the victims during their three-day ordeal at the Rio Blanco mine," he said. "Yet there is no evidence of it taking any steps to prevent the harm. On the contrary, it would appear that the company was working in cahoots with the police. It is vital that multinationals are held legally accountable for human rights violations occurring at their overseas operations."
This is where the name Richard Ralph crops up:

"Richard Ralph, the British ambassador in Lima at the time of the incident, later resigned from the diplomatic service and joined Monterrico as executive chairman. He expressed the firm's deep regret for what had happened, and has since resigned. The company was bought by a Chinese consortium in 2007, but is still incorporated in London. It has yet to extract any copper from the mine."

But the Guardian fails to inform its readers that Ralph has form:

According to Sky News:

Just in November last year (2008) he was "handed a hefty fine" by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) for "a serious example of insider dealing by a person in a key position of responsibility and trust."

"Richard Ralph, who was Britain's official representative in Peru, Romania and Latvia during his diplomatic career, was told he must pay the Financial Services Authority (FSA) £118,000 for insider trading."

Why weren't criminal proceedings taken against him?

"FSA director of enforcement Margaret Cole said Boyen and Ralph had co-operated fully with its investigation "by coming forward and providing us with information about market misconduct and as such we were more lenient.
"But for that co-operation, we would have seriously considered taking criminal proceedings," she said."
But as The Times Business Editor David Wighton put it:

"Financial regulators had a rare opportunity to show that they are serious about cracking down on insider dealing. They fluffed it. By ducking a criminal prosecution of Richard Ralph, a former ambassador, the Financial Services Authority risks playing into the hands of the sceptics who believe the practice is not really a crime, especially when the perpetrators are establishment figures.
The FSA argues that it decided against a criminal prosecution because Mr Ralph confessed and co-operated fully. There is some substance to this. Occasional leniency might help to elicit confessions from culprits who would otherwise try to brazen things out. But insider dealing is rampant and getting worse, according to the FSA's own figures.
The occasional minnow is brought to book, but rarely a figure of the stature of Mr Ralph. Nothing would have enhanced the reputation of the FSA as a credible crime-fighting agency more than a scalp such as his."
[Note also the wording in the Sky report (in fact, the reason for his retirement from the Diplomatic Service was to join the firm as executive chairman.):
"It was when Ralph was serving in Peru that he established close links with British mining company Monterrico Metals, which operated in the South American country. He joined the firm as executive chairman in 2006 after retiring from the Diplomatic Service."]
Sky News also tells us: "It is not the first time Ralph has hit the headlines - he was also involved in the Mittal "steelgate" affair when he served as Britain's ambassador to Romania."
For the full story check out Ten Percent's blog posting from January this year: "Torture, Majaz Mine & UK Ambassador Richard Ralph" and Otto at IKN here.

Economist José de Echave of Peruvian NGO CooperAcción put it like this "The fact that a British ambassador who gave professional services in Peru, ends up being a top executive of a mining company, using his contacts, demonstrates the lack of moral quality of this type of personality and it clearly shows how the business of these mining companies is handled."
(CooperAcción is a "Peruvian non-governmental organization that promotes community development and the recognition of communities' economic, social, cultural and environmental rights." They work "directly with communities affected by commercial mining operations and with communities engaged in artisanal mining.")

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