Illegal Miner Sues Villagers

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The allegations in Lee Clutz’ lawsuit against villagers in Togar Town and Pastor Town are grave as they include armed robbery and terroristic threat. The lawsuit alleges locals terrorized Clutz’ mineworkers with firearms and destroyed his properties, documents of the St. John River City Magisterial Court in Compound Two, Grand Bassa County, show. The documents say the villagers demolished an air tank, a light rope, nine pieces of washing rugs and other items valued over US$1,340. Two Mondays ago, the villagers appeared in court but did not have the US$500 bond the court imposed on them so, the court extended the payment period to the following week. “The law must take its course,” said Clutz in an interview with The DayLight outside the court. While the case is about the villagers’ alleged offenses, it exposes Clutz’ illegal mining activities, a crime that equally carries a fine and a prison term. The DayLight had tracked Clutz down at the courthouse and quizzed him over the incident—and his mining activities.   Clutz’s information and those from the villagers paint a picture of deception, pollution, corruption and violence. The machine sound Last August, Clutz and the townspeople entered an agreement that allowed him to dredge a creek in their area for gold. Vambo has a huge potential for the mineral, according to research conducted by the United States Geological Survey and the Ministry of Mines and Energy. The region hosts Mount Finley, a 350-meter-high mountain, which is part of a 400-kilometer region extending across the Sierra Leone border. Over the years, it has attracted a lot of artisanal miners—many of whom are illegal. In exchange for dredging the creek, Clutz promised to build two handpumps to replace the creek. He would fix a major bridge in the area, and give the villagers L$5,000 each month he worked there.   With the agreement in place, Clutz set up his dredge on the Swah Creek. The stream is a tributary of the St. John River, flowing through the Number Two District and is a source of water for several villages. Clutz’ dredge, which comprised a water pump machine attached to a raft made from planks and blue plastic barrels, used a tube to suck mud from the bottom of a creek.  It pumped the muddy water to an inclined, rugged stage that trapped gold nuggets, dirtying the creek. Despite the villagers living up to the agreement, Clutz failed to erect the handpumps as he had promised. He did not regularize payment of the L$5,000 nor fix the bridge. Throughout his four months of dredging, he made only two payments, the villagers said. 

The townswomen, after seeing they could not use the creek to even wash, complained to the town authorities. “The water is dirty and some of us are getting sick from drinking [it],” Martha Vonleh, chair lady of Togar Town, told The DayLight. So, the villagers drove Clutz from the towns but he did not leave the region completely. Instead, he set up another camp upstream in Bonwin nearby and resumed dredging. That angered the villagers.  On the night of Decoration Day this year—March 13—the youth of the area ransacked his new waterfront goldmine.  “We went to raid them and they saw our lights ran. So, we took all that they were working with and brought them to the town chief,” Elijah Darkenal said. “We were 12 people that left that night to check on them. We went in Pastor town and told the other folks we heard machine sound,” he recalled. Darkenal denies he and other villagers carried firearms. Reporters visited the scene of the raid and saw the dredge machine on the muddy water, partly covered with rags. The raiders took pieces of equipment from the scene and carried them to Ezekiel Boima, the Town Chief of Togar Town. The Daylight reporters saw a few items, including a big brown tub, washing rugs, back bags, rice, light rope, tarpaulin, pot, shovel and a gas tank. Moratorium on dredging Without naming Rufus Garkpah, the local mining official, and Abednego Mardeh, a patrolman, Clutz accused local mining authorities of sharing his gold but failing to protect him against the villagers.  “The agents and other people are on the field collecting bills to enable us to [dredge] in our Liberian setting. They are collecting money from us,” Clutz said. Clutz called on the Ministry of Mines to lift a moratorium on dredging to prevent mining representatives from exploiting miners. The moratorium was meant to curb the pollution of water bodies countrywide and the degradation of the rural environment. “I want the government to legalize it for… all Liberians to benefit from the resources than to enrich individuals,” Clutz added. That was the second time Garkpah was directly or indirectly mentioned. The villagers in Togar Town said Mardeh had introduced Clutz to them on Garkpah’s behalf. Mardeh even attended meetings between them and Clutz. “Clutz came to me along with Mardeh and said he wanted to dredge the water. So, I told him I will inform the surrounding villages that drink from the Swah Creek, including Pastor Town and Jerome Karngoun Town,” said Ezekiel Boima, Elder of Togar Town. Mardeh’s presence at the courthouse appears to support the villagers’ accusations. Reporters saw Mardeh enter the clerk’s office. Later, Ernest Gblorso, the chairman of Vambo Township Development Association, said Mardeh had come to plead for the townsmen.   Mardeh denies any wrongdoing. He admitted he attended meetings between Clutz and the townspeople with Garkpah’s consent.  However, the meetings were not for dredging, but rather a small-scale mining that uses handheld tools. “We never talked about dredging,” Mardeh said in a phone interview. His comments are not backed by facts. Clutz has never acquired a legal mining license before, at least not in his name. Also, Mardeh sidestepped why he did not take any action against Clutz for dredging. Mining without a license carries a penalty of up to a US$2,000 fine, a two to three-month prison term, or both. Like Mardeh, Garkpah denies the accusations against him. He said he had not seen Clutz since this year, and that he only sent Mardeh at the court to witness the proceedings. At the court hearing last Tuesday, the villagers failed to secure a bond.  However, the elders are pleading with Clutz to withdraw the case from the court. The United States Embassy provided funding for this story. The DayLight maintained editorial independence over the story’s content. By Emmanuel Sherman & Charles Gbayor/thedaylight.org

 

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