Company linked to local IEC mining operation faces liability in murders

Company linked to local IEC mining operation faces liability in murders

A company connected to the Montgomery County longwall coal mining dispute faces a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed four years ago by labor-rights organizations that claim the international coal conglomerate is liable for murder in the South American nation of Colombia.

Drummond Co. Inc. of Birmingham, Ala. – an affiliate of IEC (Montgomery) LLC of Illinois, which owns 85,000 acres of coal rights in Montgomery County – strongly rejects allegations that it was company-supported paramilitary gunmen who in 2001 assassinated three union leaders employed at Drummond’s huge La Loma coal complex in northern Colombia.

Even as Drummond denies a role in the killings, the accusations trouble some members of Montgomery County’s anti-longwall community. In a written statement last week, the president of Citizens Against Longwall Mining worried that the county’s lucrative coal reserves could lead to intimidation of landowners and a “non-ethical way of doing business” by the company.

A Drummond spokeswoman said last week she was unable to comment. For several years parties on both sides have been barred by the was intended to combat pirates but recently has been applied to a range of allegations against American entities working abroad.

An attorney for the ILRF also declined to comment, citing the gag order.

Many official documents relating to the case are sealed, although a copy of what appears to be the original complaint against Drummond can be found on the ILRF’s Web site. While it’s unclear if that document is the actual filing, its contents match accounts of the suit that have appeared in newspapers since 2002.

The complaint asks that Drummond be held liable in the kidnapping and murder of Valmore Lacarno Rodriguez, Victor Hugo Orcasita Amaya and Gustavo Soler Mora in two separate incidents in 2001. Lacarno and Orcasita Amaya were captured by paramilitary gunmen on a bus carrying union members away from the La Loma mine in March, while Soler Mora was captured and killed in a similar manner in October of that year. The body of at least one of the men showed signs of torture.

The plaintiffs claim the paramilitary groups were somehow supported or compensated at Drummond’s Colombian facilities in return for the intimidation of union members. The suit names Drummond Co. Inc., Colombian subsidiary company Drummond Ltd. and CEO Garry Neil Drummond as defendants.

According to published reports, Drummond – like many energy companies in war-torn Colombia – has an agreement with the Colombian government for military-style protection of company assets and employees, which have been targeted by political rebels.

But in a 2003 story in The Wall Street Journal, the company denied involvement with the right-wing paramilitary units believed to have carried out the assassinations. Drummond also suggested the killings resulted from animosity between the union and the paramilitary groups that stemmed from Colombia’s decades-old civil war and that those problems had nothing to do with Drummond.

The company has invested heavily in Colombia, where in the coming years it plans to spend $1 billion to open a second mine, according to a story published in April in The Birmingham News. When that project is complete, the newspaper reported, Drummond will employ about 10,000 people in Colombia – about ten times more than work for the company in Alabama.

The name IEC (Montgomery) LLC represents the Montgomery County coal investments of members of the Drummond family, according to Drummond Co. representatives who visited this area last week.

Both IEC/Drummond and Colt LLC of West Virginia – a separate company which owns 120,000 acres of coal rights in the county – have expressed interest in using the high-extraction longwall mining method, which allows removal of a greater proportion of the coal in a seam.

However, the underground method also causes considerable surface subsidence – as much as three to six feet over large areas. That circumstance has drawn sharp opposition from rural-based organizations such as CALM, which argues that state-mandated repairs to the land and compensation for mining damage may not be enough to restore the integrity and productivity of farmland.

While CALM’s objections to longwall mining are primarily based on environmental and property-ownership issues, the non-profit group also questions whether the presence of these companies is good for the county.

“Our concern all along has been the possibility of a coal company coming into Montgomery County with a non-ethical way of doing business, i.e. running a non-union mine as well as deceiving and bullying land and property owners into thinking that they (the coal company) have the coal rights as well as subsidence rights when in reality, they may have just the coal rights, or possibly neither,” CALM president Dale Miller said in a written statement. Miller farms more than 1,000 acres near Nokomis.

CALM and other anti-longwall groups in the county are not opposed to all coal mining, just the longwall method. The groups support the use of low-extraction methods such as room-and-pillar mining, which is designed to limit surface subsidence.

In visits to Hillsboro and Springfield last week, Drummond representatives said the company is considering building at least one coal-to-liquid gasification plant in Illinois, possibly in Montgomery County.

The company and its affiliates own about 5 billion tons of recoverable coal in Illinois, about 1.2 billion of which is within Montgomery County.

© The State Journal-Register

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