Thursday, January 27

A senior official of the Xunta testifies before the judge for spills of heavy metals from the Coruña mine of Monte Neme

The news was all over the press. In February 2014, one of the waste ponds at the Monte Neme mine, between Carballo and Malpica (A Coruña), once dedicated to tungsten and later to the extraction of aggregates, broke. 24,000 cubic meters of dirty water and sludge descended the slope, contaminated lands and streams, and almost did not reach populations in the area. Seven years later, a senior official from the Xunta de Galicia testified before a Carballo court investigated for an alleged crime “against natural resources and the environment” derived from that event.

Mount Neme: a ‘photogenic’ example of neglect, deterioration and environmental risk

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The mining exploitation had belonged in its last stage to Leitosa, a company of the Cotino family – involved in the Valencian branch of the Gürtel plot – which went bankrupt in 2012 and was dissolved in 2015. It had received some 600,000 euros in aid granted by the last executive of Fraga Iribarne. The fact that the public money regulated the project was not enough for the company to take charge of the restoration of the site, something to which the mining firms in the Spanish State have been obliged since at least 1982. Leitosa did not attend to this. The Galician Government is a subsidiary civil liable for the environmental problems that it may cause. And it caused them, in 2014, with the rupture of the raft.

The Xunta decided then to take the reins. The place fell, as people came to take photos with the turquoise blue background of the waters -colouring caused by pollution- and even to bathe. Augas de Galicia had already detected high concentrations of aluminum. But the spills continued. Sources of the environmental movement explain that the restoration of the mine has not been completed, despite having been without activity for years. Two years ago, Feijóo himself claimed that the “responsible” for what happens in the mine was the old company that exploited it. “He has to recover the space, clean up the ponds and rehabilitate the area in accordance with the community of mountains,” said the president. They had asked him about the poisoning of some bathers on the Monte Neme raft. He ignored it.

“Drainage with heavy metals”

The Petón do Lobo Association was the one that filed the complaint against Ángel Bernardo Tahoces and Juan José Iglesias Suárez, then general director of Mines and the territorial head of the Department of Industry in A Coruña, respectively. The latter testified on Wednesday before the court of first instance and instruction number 2 of the town of the Bergantiños region. The evidence detected by the judge in charge of the case refers to “a continuing ecological crime due to the dumping of acid mine drainage with high amounts of heavy metals.” And the aforementioned discharges occur through “two drainage pipes installed by the Xunta without treatment.”

However, the same magistrate considers another crime prescribed, criminal responsibility “with respect to the facts related to the critical failure of one of the mining deposits in February 2014.” As it argues in the order to initiate proceedings to which has had access, when the lawsuit was filed last December, five years had already elapsed since the events and “there is no criminal complaint at this time” that ” could have interrupted the prescription “. Petón do Lobo denounced him in his day, they remember from the association, but the Prosecutor’s Office did not admit the demand.

Consulted by, the Ministry of Economy, Business and Innovation has limited itself to expressing its “maximum regarding the procedure” and its “collaboration with the courts so that this situation is clarified as soon as possible”.

Tahoces and justice

The current lawsuit also includes Ángel Bernardo Tahoces, general director of Mines for a decade in the Feijóo governments. The president fired him last year. But, despite being investigated in another process, also related to mining – the Varilongo case – he sought accommodation. Tahoces is now manager of the Axencia da Industria Forestal, dependent on the Ministry of Economy.

The mining policy of the Xunta de Feijóo has been a constant focus of social conflicts, some of them prosecuted. In the case of Varilongo (Santa Comba, A Coruña), the Galician Government authorized its reopening without evaluation of its environmental impact. And that some reports warned of the possibility that the exploitation contaminated the waters of the place. Tahoces has already declared in court for the case. He did it last June. Also the reopening of San Finx (Lousame, A Coruña) has generated neighborhood and environmental protests. And he has finished with Tahoces again before the judge, this time for the alleged crime of environmental trespass. Social mobilization managed to paralyze a similar project in Touro (A Coruña).