(Corrects Aug. 18 story to clarify sourcing and month in fifth
FREETOWN/JOHANNESBURG, Aug 18 (Reuters) - 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
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 plaintiffs and a court clerk said. A spokesman
for BSGR said the company would not comment until there was a
Octea has described the accusations in the case as "baseless
and without merit."
A lawsuit was filed against Octea subsidiary Koidu Limited
and related companies in April last year by 73 plaintiffs who
are identified in the complaint as part of an association that
says it is made up of individuals who live or lived within 500
metres of the mine at the relevant times. In other court
documents, plaintiffs say they have suffered respiratory
infections and headaches from living near the mine.
The complaint 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 and Octea 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
Sierra Leone's mines minister Timothy Musa Kabba did not
reply to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Cooper Inveen in Freetown and Helen Reid in
Johannesburg; Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Mark Potter)