Argentina confirms charges for Barrick employees over 2015 cyanide spill at Veladero

Court of appeals says charges of “pollution, negligence and malpractice" still in place for 8 of 9 people.

An Argentine court has confirmed criminal charges against eight of nine Barrick Gold (TSX, NYSE:ABX) employees related to their involvement in a cyanide spill at the company’s Veladero mine in 2015, the first of three similar incidents registered at the operation in the past three years.

The company's managers had been criminally charged by a court in San Juan, where the mine is located, following the incident, but they appealed, seeking dismissal of the charges.

According to the ruling, partly published by local paper Cadena3 (in Spanish), the court rejected the appeals for eight of the nine individuals, for whom the charges of "pollution, negligence and malpractice," remain. The person absolved was general manager Antonio Adames Reyes, who the court said "lacked of merit" for the charges.

The company said it plans to legally support the executives, as it believes "there is no reason to consider their actions as criminal,” the article says.

Barrick is also being investigated for possible negligence in relation to another spill of cyanide solution at the same mine, in March this year. 

Barrick's spokesperson Andy lloyd told MINING.com, the individuals have not yet faced trial and have not been convicted.

The ruling follows a 145.7m pesos fine (about $9.8 million at the time) Barrick had to pay in January 2016 over the incident. At the time, the company said it had undertaken a plan to strengthen controls and safeguards at the mine, including increased water monitoring.

A few months later, however, falling ice damaged a pipe carrying process solution in the leach pad area, causing a second leak. Normal operations only resumed in October last year.

The world’s No.1 gold producer by value is also being investigated for possible negligence in relation to another spill of cyanide solution at the same mine, in March this year. The separate claim argues the company failed to complete improvements to Veladero, which could have prevented the latest incident, the third of its kind in 18 months.

Earlier this month, federal judges filed a petition to Argentina’s Supreme Court, asking it to clarify who has jurisdiction over the Ministry of Environment’s case against the Canadian gold miner, which sold 50% of Veladero to China’s Shandong Gold Group in April for $960 million.

The mine produced 544,000 ounces last year and has proven and probable mineral reserves estimated in 6.7 million ounces of gold as of December 31, 2016, according to the company's website.

* This story has been updated to reflect the fact that while the eight Barrick's employees face criminal charges, they have not yet faced trial nor been convicted.