Andalucia v Boliden trial set to begin on Tuesday

Reference image of Los Frailes mine in the Spanish province of Seville. (Image courtesy of Ecologistas En Acción).

Tuesday, July 5, 2023, has been set as the start date of the trial aimed at dealing with the latest lawsuit promoted by the Junta de Andalucía against Swedish company Boliden and two of its associated companies Boliden AB and Boliden BV.

The Junta is asking Boliden to pay €89.9 million plus interest to cover the environmental restoration work that the regional government had to undertake following the tailings dam breach that took place 25 years ago at Boliden Apirsa’s Los Frailes lead and zinc operation, near Aznalcóllar in the province of Seville.  

The accident happened on April 25, 1998, when a toxic waste reservoir failed, releasing 7 million cubic metres of effluent into the Guadiamar River and polluting about 4,400 hectares of land, with some segments bordering the Doñana national park.

According to local media, the trial program includes the initial session and five more sessions during which 13 interrogations will be done, all of which end on July 20, 2023.

The Andalusian Administration argues that the company initially dealt with the spill but then abandoned the restoration work, which forced the government to undertake a coordinated intervention to avoid further damage to the environment. The plan, however, was to pass on the expenses for such work to Boliden, as it was the main company responsible for carrying out mining activities in the area through Boliden AB and Boliden BV, was the legitimate owner of the tailings pond and held the majority stake in Boliden Apirsa. 

The Junta is invoking the piercing of the corporate veil doctrine, in which courts put aside limited liability and hold a corporation’s shareholders or directors personally liable for the corporation’s actions. In this case, the government argues that Boliden-Apirsa, Boliden AB and Boliden BV are not a corporate group but constituted a single owner of the mining activity in Los Frailes.

The lawyers representing Andalucía also argue that, based on the Mining Law, Boliden has the obligation to reimburse the Junta for expenses it incurred for the environmental restoration work.

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