Malaysia

Lynas detractors score another small win in battle to halt rare earth plant

A general view of the Lynas factory in Gebeng, 270km east of Kuala Lumpur, seen in this April 19, 2012 file photograph. — Reuters picA general view of the Lynas factory in Gebeng, 270km east of Kuala Lumpur, seen in this April 19, 2012 file photograph. — Reuters picKUALA LUMPUR, Sept 26 — Australian miner Lynas Corporation lost its bid today to keep its defamation suit against detractors from being heard here after the High Court ruled to transfer the controversial case to Kuantan, Pahang.

The transfer is seen as a boost for the case of Kuantan-based local environmental group Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) in its ongoing campaign to snuff out the rare earth giant’s move to fire up its RM2.5 billion refinery in coastal Gebeng.

In ruling against Lynas, High Court judge Datuk Louis O’Hara said having the trial heard in Kuantan would be better than holding it here on the opposite side of the peninsula, as most of the defendants and witnesses were from the east coast city.

“I have a slightly different approach, the forum convenience is tilted in favour of the Kuantan High Court.

“We are on the verge of the trial stage, therefore when we get to trial that will be the better forum.

“In Kuantan, (SMSL) and their witnesses are there and therefore, the trial should be held there,” said O’Hara.

The judge noted too that it was irrelevant that the majority of readers of SMSL’s online campaign were based in the Klang Valley.

He also rejected an application from Lynas to stay the transfer pending an appeal, saying his decision was to expedite the hearing.

“I have already made the order. If I order a stay, it will be in limbo for six months,” he said.

O’Hara added that the case could still be transferred back here should Lynas win its appeal at a later stage.

Green groups and Lynas have engaged in battles both in and out of court for the past two years since news of the rare earth plant being built here broke, reawakening the horrific memories of the Asian Rare Earths (ARE) plant that operated near Ipoh, Perak and was linked to incidents of cancer, premature deaths and birth defects.

Opponents have called the RM2.5 billion project “the world’s largest radioactive waste dump” despite the Sydney-based firm’s insistence that radiation would be at very low levels as “it will break down and alpha particles will release very strong radiation into the food chain.”

Lynas had previously accused SMSL of making defamatory statements against it and filed its suit at the High Court here on April 19.

Lynas cleared its final major hurdle in June to getting its TOL after a parliamentary select committee (PSC) called for the licence to be issued as “scientific facts” show that the controversial Kuantan plant is safe.

However, on July 26, the High Court rejected an application by Lynas to gag SMSL and five others from publishing public statements against it.

Lynas had said in April that delays in obtaining the licence for its facility, which was initially approved in January, may have “very serious consequences” for the RM80 billion worth of rare earth orders already received as it is “sold out for the next 10 years.”

Unprecedented public anger against the Lynas plant in Kuantan has been fertilising Malaysia’s green movement and could affect voter sentiment ahead of key national polls that must be called soon.

Earlier this year, thousands of people gathered for a peaceful demonstration in Kuantan calling on the government to stop the plant from being fired up.

The company said that the issuance of a two-year temporary operating licence would enable Lynas to commence the transport of rare earth concentrate and to complete all necessary steps to prepare for first feed to kiln, which is expected next month.

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