Plaintiffs in Sierra Leone diamond mine lawsuit request freeze of Steinmetz subsidiary’s assets

COOPER INVEEN and HELEN REID

SIERRA Leoneans seeking damages for alleged environmental degradation around a diamond mine have applied for a freezing order on the assets of Octea, a subsidiary of Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz’s BSG Resources (BSGR).

In an affidavit to the high court of Sierra Leone, seen by Reuters, the lawyer for the plaintiffs said there was a “clear and present risk” the defendants could expatriate funds in order to avoid having to pay out if the court rules against them.

Sierra Leone’s High Court discussed the application for a freezing order on Tuesday and will continue on Wednesday, a lawyer for the prosecution and a court clerk said. A spokesman for BSGR said the company would not comment until there was a legal ruling.

Octea has described the accusations in the case as “baseless and without merit.”

The lawsuit against Octea subsidiary Koidu Limited, filed in March last year by 73 plaintiffs who all live within 500 metres of the mine, says they have suffered respiratory infections and headaches from living near the mine.

It seeks damages of an unspecified amount.

The affidavit said that without a freezing order, plaintiffs might have to seek execution of a possible judgment in their favour in as many as seven separate jurisdictions, because most of the 12 defendants are not domiciled in Sierra Leone, and BSGR is in administration proceedings.

BSGR, Octea Limited, and linked companies Octea Diamonds Limited and Octea Services Limited are registered in Guernsey.

Britain’s High Court issued a freezing order in December 2019 against Steinmetz and the seven other defendants in an ongoing case against Brazilian iron ore miner Vale, freezing assets including a yacht and two Bombardier aircraft held by BSGR parent company Nysco Management Corporation, court documents show.

Sierra Leone’s mines minister Timothy Musa Kabba did not reply to a request for comment. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.