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PNG’s Ok Tedi mine disaster money locked in new legal fight

A fresh legal dispute has erupted over control of a fund set up to benefit the tens of thousands of villagers affected by mining giant BHP’s environmental disaster at the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea more than 20 years ago.

The Ok Tedi mine – which BHP co-owned with the PNG government until selling its stake in 2002 – discharged tens of millions of tonnes of mine waste into the local river system during the 1980s and 1990s, contaminating fish and trees and devastating the area’s economy.

Alex Maun, a landowner who sued BHP in the 1990s, in the dying forest near the Ok Tedi River.

Alex Maun, a landowner who sued BHP in the 1990s, in the dying forest near the Ok Tedi River.Credit:Alex De La Rue

A special trust account was created by the mine owners in the late 1990s to accumulate dividends from the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine’s ongoing profits to compensate the 30,000 landowners of the worst-affected communities living downstream of the mine.

Estimated to contain 250 million kina ($106 million), the Western Province People’s Dividend Trust Fund had been managed by PNG government officials until September last year when the Ok Tedi and Fly River Development Foundation, a regional representative group, raised allegations the funds were being “misapplied … causing a diminishment” and won a legal bid to become its trustees.

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