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Gerrie Nel is seen in court during the Oscar Pistorius murder trial in Pretoria, South Africa, Aug. 7, 2014.Mujahid Safodien/The Associated Press

South African prosecutor Gerrie Nel, famed for winning a murder conviction against Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius, has turned his sights on a company owned by Canadian mining tycoon Robert Friedland for alleged illegalities at its South African platinum mine.

Mr. Nel, who works for South African organization AfriForum, announced on Tuesday that he is considering the private prosecution of a subsidiary of Mr. Friedland’s company, Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., for alleged violations of environmental laws and other regulations.

Mr. Friedland has said that the $1.6-billion mine, which he is developing about 280 kilometres northeast of Johannesburg, will become the world’s largest and lowest-cost platinum mine. The mine’s first shaft reached a depth of 750 metres last month.

But a group of local residents has been fighting the project for years with lawsuits, protests and petitions. They asked for assistance from Mr. Nel, who visited the mine site on Tuesday and announced that he will take on the case on behalf of the residents.

“We are considering a private prosecution to ensure equality before the law and that the rule of law prevails,” Mr. Nel said in a statement released by AfriForum.

“There are various contraventions – contraventions of the environmental law, contraventions of water rights and so forth. We’re assisting the tribe and we will look at possible private prosecution should the state not prosecute. But we hope that we’re able to resolve the issues that the community has against the mine.”

Until last year, Mr. Nel was one of the leading prosecutors in South Africa’s national prosecuting agency. Nicknamed “the bulldog” for his tenacity, Mr. Nel was famed for a series of high-profile cases, including the successful prosecution of South Africa’s police commissioner on corruption charges. He was the chief prosecutor at the murder trial of Mr. Pistorius, and – after an appeal – won a conviction against the double-amputee athlete for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Last year, Mr. Nel left the public prosecutor to join AfriForum as the head of its private prosecution unit, which takes up cases that the state has neglected or abandoned. The unit says it targets “people or institutions” that have been “sheltered” from prosecution.

Mr. Nel’s targets so far have included Grace Mugabe, wife of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, and Duduzane Zuma, son of former South African president Jacob Zuma. After Mr. Nel threatened to file charges of culpable homicide against Duduzane Zuma, whose Porsche luxury car had struck a van and killed a woman in 2014, state prosecutors announced last month that they would pursue the case, which they had earlier shelved in 2015.

AfriForum, which has more than 190,000 members in South Africa, is primarily known for its battles on behalf of the rights of the white Afrikaner minority. It says the Afrikaners are its “specific focus” but it also seeks “respect and recognition between communities.”

At the Ivanhoe mining site, some residents have complained of illegal mining operations, violation of environmental laws and the unlawful and disrespectful relocation of ancestral graves by Ivanhoe’s subsidiary Ivanplats, according to AfriForum.

“AfriForum was approached in March, 2017, by members of the tribe because they perceive that Ivanplats may have enjoyed unjustified protection by government officials,” said Mr. Nel, who spent several hours visiting the mine site on Tuesday.

The organization said it had received complaints that the mine’s blasting operations have damaged local houses and that the mining company had relocated residents from their traditional homes to make room for a storm-water drain for the mine.

In 2016, the residents won a South African court injunction to block the relocation of dozens of graves at the mine site. Less than three months later, a judge overturned the injunction, saying that any delay to the project would cause “significant prejudice” to the company and the local community.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Ivanhoe said the statements by AfriForum and Mr. Nel were “false and unsubstantiated.” The company said it had tried repeatedly to meet Mr. Nel over the past several months to discuss the allegations, but instead he had accepted “misinformation” from a “small group of self-serving agitators.”

The company said it has complied with all legal requirements at the mine, including environmental laws and heritage rules. “Ivanplats did obtain all the necessary permissions to relocate certain graves and reached detailed agreements with all affected families, including a provision for all cultural and religious observances,” it said.

“Ivanplats has painstakingly and carefully proceeded through the development process in an entirely lawful manner and has received all required permits and approvals. In addition, Ivanplats has been sensitive to the needs of the local host communities and has extensively consulted with those communities and their traditional leadership structures.”

Jamie Kneen, spokesman for independent Ottawa-based group MiningWatch Canada, said the residents near the mine have made “very real complaints that have been extensively documented” but there has been “no effective response” from South African authorities.

“The fact that a reputable prosecutor like Nel thinks the complaints against Ivanhoe are important enough to investigate indicates either reluctance or inability on the part of the South African government to protect mine-affected communities,” Mr. Kneen told The Globe.

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Tickers mentioned in this story

Study and track financial data on any traded entity: click to open the full quote page. Data updated as of 22/05/24 4:00pm EDT.

SymbolName% changeLast
IVN-T
Ivanhoe Mines Ltd
-8.88%19.39

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