10 Sep 2008

Norwegian wealth fund sells stake in Rio Tinto over Papua mine

9:27 pm on 10 September 2008

One of the largest shareholders in mining giant Rio Tinto has sold its stake of around 880 million US dollars in the company over concerns about the Grasberg goldmine in Papua.

The Norwegian sovereign wealth fund has announced that it has sold its shares after failing to persuade Rio to improve operations at the Papua gold and copper mine run.

Grasberg is operated by Freeport McMoRan, a New Orleans-based miner, and Rio is a 40 per cent shareholder in the opencast pit..

The Norwegian Finance Minister publicly shamed Rio in a statement that accused the company of "severe environmental damage".

The mine dumps 230,000 tonnes of tailings, or waste rock, into the Ajikwa River every day and environmental campaigners claim that this has produced high levels of pollution and that 70 per cent of aquatic life was suffering from chronic toxicity.

The Minister, Kristin Halvorsen, says there are no indications to the effect that the company's practices will be changed in future.

He says the Norwegian fund cannot hold ownership interests in such a company.