Turkish court arrests four regarding İliç gold mine disaster following new expert report

A Turkish court has arrested four in relation to the fatal landslide at the Çöpler Gold Mine in Turkey’s eastern Erzincan province after a new expert report included them among the 13 primary negligent parties for the disaster, bringing the total arrests to 12.

Duvar English

A new expert report was published regarding the landslide that occurred at the leach area of the Çöpler Gold Mine and killed nine workers in the eastern province of Erzincan. 

The report described the incident as a "work accident" and held 13 individuals, including Anagold Mining's Turkey Director, Cengiz Yalçın Demirci, primarily at fault.

Additionally, officials who signed off on the positive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report were also found primarily at fault by the experts. The report noted that the project was granted an EIA-positive status "despite some pollutants exceeding limits." 

The primary responsible party was identified as Canada-based SSR Mining’s Vice President of Global Projects, John Harmse. Others, deemed primary negligent parties, were operator company Anagold’s Turkey Director Cengiz Yalçın Demirci, the operations chief, the health and safety director, and various engineers, totaling 13 individuals.

Police had detained Demirci in the aftermath of the accident, but released him in six hours, raising questions about the efficacy of the investigation. 

Some 26 individuals were identified as secondary responsibles by the 262-page report, the third one produced within the ongoing investigation on the landslide. 

The expert report concluded that the health and safety director S.Ç., operations chief F.Y., project coordinator Ö.A., and drilling and blasting engineer M.K. were primarily at fault. They were summoned to courthouses in their respective provinces to give their statements.

Following their interrogation by the prosecutor, four suspects were arrested, raising the number of arrests in the investigation to 12.

The report did not find five people currently arrested for the accident guilty. In response, the prosecutor's office requested their acquittal and release. 

The report summarised the multiple errors that have led to the disaster. Failure to properly establish the project management mechanism, the capacity increase, the design errors in the prepared projects, the insufficient monitoring during the operation phase, the inadequate warning systems, and the lack of an effective management system to act upon the warning signs of cracks were all influential factors in the occurrence of the incident.

The report also noted that the incident caused environmental pollution, stating that the reports prepared during the design and planning stages did not use data sets meeting the requirements of current regulations, and the obligations under the Mining and Environmental Laws were not fulfilled.

The Çöpler Gold Mine Disaster

Nine workers on Feb. 13 were trapped under tonnes of chemical-contaminated soil that slid. Experts later found that the soil heap was overloaded beyond regulation volumes.

Search teams could recover the bodies of four workers almost two months after the disaster. Seven bodies remain under the massive soil heap as rescue efforts continue. 

Experts noted that such a disaster at the mine was a long time coming, despite their repeated warnings. 

The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) warned against the “demolition, sliding, and slipping risks” in the mining facility months before the accident. 

Previously, eight suspects, including the Canadian manager I.R.G. of the company operating the gold mine, were arrested, and two suspects were released under judicial control.