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Thailand’s largest gold mine reopens as community seeks justice in class action

Photo: HaRDstories
Photo: HaRDstories

BANGKOK – Thailand’s largest gold mine, the Chatree Mining Complex, has reopened after a six-year suspension, while affected community members continue their pursuit of justice in this year’s class action lawsuit. The mine, which straddles the northern provinces of Phichit, Phetchabun, and Phitsanulok, was closed in 2017 due to environmental and health concerns.

Owned by Akara Resources Public Company, a subsidiary of Sydney-based Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd., Chatree began operating in 2001. The shutdown led to an international lawsuit between the Australian company and the Thai government, with Kingsgate seeking over $866 million in compensation for alleged violations of the free trade zone agreement. The international lawsuit is expected to conclude this year, but the community-level lawsuit remains ongoing.

The Civil Court in Bangkok is set to hear witness testimony and finalise the case this year, with 400 community members involved. Led by a female community leader, locals from Phichit and Phetchabun have joined the lawsuit against Akara Resources for violating the Environmental Quality Act. They are seeking approximately $438,000 in compensation per individual, totaling over $17.54 million.

“As long as the pollution and the problems are still there, how could they reopen the mine?” said Somchai A-meen, the community’s lawyer from the Lawyers Council of Thailand Under the Royal Patronage, in an interview with HaRDstories. He referred to the several leaking accidents of the mine’s tailings pond.

A study conducted by independent researchers found cyanide contamination in water leaks from the mine to nearby rice paddies, and blood tests revealed thousands of adults and children with heavy metals exceeding the healthy standard in their bloodstreams. The mine has resumed operations, but ore extraction has not yet been reported.

 

On 2 February 2022, members of the Pichit community submitted a letter to opposition MPs at the Parliament in Bangkok, voicing their opposition against the reopening of the mine. Photo: HaRDstories

Landmark lawsuit

In 2018, Thailand’s Civil Court accepted a landmark class action lawsuit involving individuals living within a 5-kilometre radius of the Chatree gold mine.

The case progressed slowly through the court, with a similar class action filed in 2020 by communities affected by a recycling plant in Ratchaburi reaching a successful conclusion before it. In that instance, the court ordered the polluter to compensate 1,000 villagers, totaling $38,006.

​​”The Chatree gold mine case was the first class action lawsuit ever in Thailand, so the court might have taken time to manage it, and the defendant used tactics to slow down the process,” said Somchai. “As it was a class action case with many people on the accusation side, it will be very challenging for the mine.”

In February, Akara Resources and community representatives entered mediation, with locals demanding compensation. The mining company proposed setting up several funds for community development and health monitoring. However, Somchai argued that compensation for the impacts caused must also be provided.

The court is scheduled to hear the results of mediation between Akara Resources and community representatives on 11 April. If demands are not met, witness hearings will proceed until July, with a decision expected by the end of the year.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit. We corrected the error.