Acting on the criminal complaint filed by RERI against the company Zijin Copper, as well as the company’s responsible person for causing heavy metal pollution to the Mali Pek River in March 2021, the competent public prosecutor’s office in Negotin issued an Order requiring Zijin Copper and the responsible person to pay the amount of 1,000,000.00 dinars for humanitarian purposes due to the criminal offense of environmental pollution.
In March 2021, the public was disturbed by the pollution of the Pek River, which took on a cloudy, red, copper and green color due to the activities of the Zijin Copper Company.
After a large number of inquiries coming from the citizens, RERI engaged the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Bor, which conducted sampling of sludge from the Mali Pek River. The sampling results showed that the sludge is extremely polluted due to high concentrations of pollutants, namely: copper in values 17 times higher than prescribed, arsenic in values 3.5 times higher than prescribed, as well as lead in values almost 2 times higher in relation to the prescribed.
Furthermore, in order to determine the pollution of Mali Pek, RERI engaged the Institute for Public Health Timok from Zajecar, which, upon request, conducted sampling of surface waters and wastewater in the municipality of Majdanpek.
Sampling was performed at 3 locations: upstream from the mine, downstream from the inflow of wastewater from the mine and immediately after the inflow of Mali Pek into the Pek River, in order to prove that the pollution can only come from the illegal activities of Zijin Copper. The results of testing surface waters and wastewater downstream from the mine showed multiple exceedances of the limit values of pollutants, namely: iron in the amount five times higher than the prescribed value, as well as manganese in the amount twice as high as the prescribed value, while the river Mali Pek was classified as a fifth class of surface waters (i.e. surface waters in this class cannot be used for any purpose). At the same time, the values of these pollutants at the other two sampling sites were within the permitted values.
Due to a reasonable suspicion that illegal business activities of Zijin Copper caused the environmental pollution in a larger extent in accordance with Article 260, paragraph 1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia, and having in mind all the evidences, RERI filed a criminal complaint in May 2021 and recommended to the competent public prosecutor to initiate proceedings against the suspects as soon as possible.
Acting upon the criminal complaint submitted by RERI, and based on the evidence and reports we submitted, the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Negotin issued an order in April 2022 deferring the criminal prosecution against Zijin Copper and the responsible person within the company Jian Ximing, due to the criminal offense of environmental pollution, and ordered them to pay the amount of 1,000,000.00 dinars for humanitarian or other public purposes.
Namely, in accordance with Article 283, paragraph 1 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the public prosecutor may defer criminal prosecution for criminal offenses punishable by a fine or a term of imprisonment of up to 5 years, if the suspect accepts certain obligations prescribed by the applicable law, such as the payment of public revenues used for humanitarian or other public purposes. Nevertheless, in case the suspects do not pay the amount they are obliged within the established deadline, the competent public prosecutor will initiate criminal prosecution.
RERI welcomes the efforts of the competent prosecutor’s office to establish the responsibility of the legal entity for crimes related to environmental pollution and considers that the decision represents a significant contribution to legal practice, as well as partial satisfaction in achieving special prevention against perpetrators.
On the other hand, RERI points out that it is particularly concerned about the lack of reaction from the competent inspection bodies, in this case the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, which have identified illegalities, yet have not filed criminal charges against those responsible.