| LIMA, June 6
LIMA, June 6 Legal woes grew for the main
opponent of Newmont Mining's $5 billion gold mine in
Peru on Thursday as a congressional committee urged the attorney
general to investigate him for allegedly misusing public funds.
Cajamarca Regional President Gregorio Santos, who led
protests that has stalled Newmont's Conga gold project, awarded
contracts to a local businessman in violation of rules on
transparent bids, according to a report assembled and
unanimously approved by the oversight committee in Congress.
Lawmaker Gustavo Rondon, the head of the committee, said
the report now faces a floor vote on whether Congress should
tell the attorney general to take up the case.
"Our investigation was very thorough and we are confident it
will pass," Rondon told Reuters.
Santos, the most high-profile critic of U.S.-based Newmont's
stalled $4.8 billion project, could not be reached for comment.
But he has said he is being unfairly targeted by the
government of President Ollanta Humala, who has sought to
overcome stiff local opposition to what would be Peru's biggest
"I reject the accusations. It is a fairy tale orchestrated
by the government," Santos said in a Twitter post.
Santos, a member of Peru's communist Patria Roja party who
has criticized Humala for drifting to the right, is widely seen
as having presidential ambitions for 2016. It is unknown if
Santos would get many votes outside his northern region.
Santos has faced other attempts to defrock him politically.
At the height of anti-mining protests in Cajamarca a year
ago, officials moved to reopen a years-old case against Santos
from when he led so-called peasant patrol groups that function
as de facto police force in remote towns across Peru.
That case, which was dropped for lack of evidence, tried to
link Santos to violent acts related to the patrols.
The dispute over Conga has arguably been the biggest
controversy Humala has faced during his two years in office.
Five anti-Conga protesters were killed in clashes with
police last July and Humala has twice shuffled his Cabinet over
Communities say they fear the project, which would be built
near a handful of mountain lakes, would deplete and pollute the
local lakes and rivers.
Newmont, working with partner Buenaventura, has put
construction of the mine on hold as it builds reservoirs high in
the Andes to guarantee year-round water supplies for locals.
Peasant patrol groups active in Cajamarca say they will
occupy one of the lakes to protest the plans to transfer the
town's water from the lake to a reservoir later this year.
Buenaventura Chief Executive Roque Benavides told Reuters
last week the mine will not go forward if draining the lake
generates broad opposition.