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Bojana Novaković: We won’t accept a lithium mine near Loznica, even if Rio Tinto meets EU environmental standards

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Activist Bojana Novaković from the Environmental Network Marš sa Drine stated today that the movement’s stance is that it does not want a lithium mine near Loznica, even if the company Rio Tinto meets EU environmental standards.

At a press conference, she rejected what she called Rio Tinto’s “attempt” to refute her statements about the financial data from the company’s report on the implementation of the “Jadar” project.

“Marš sa Drine publishes data from available documents and financial reports of Rio Tinto. If that company wants to refute our data, let it offer facts and documents where we are not right,” Novaković said.

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Rio Tinto yesterday “strongly rejected all tendentious claims and accusations that the data from their reports represent anything other than regular financial reports.”

Novaković said that the problem of lithium exploitation is not only Serbia’s problem and that such projects exist outside Serbia, funded by the European Commission (EC) in partnership with Rio Tinto.

In Serbia, as she pointed out, the EC finances Rio Tinto through the “Vector” project, which engages scientists to analyze the views of the opposition and the local population to persuade them to accept mining, and has invested six million euros in it.

“What is being hysterically said on television that Marš sa Drine and the residents of Jadar are not telling the truth, without offering facts and documents, is amateur marketing,” Novaković said.

She emphasized that “nothing proves to her that Rio Tinto has an interest in solving the climate crisis, but that is how it advertises itself, as the savior of the world.” In Europe, as she said, there is a Critical Raw Materials Act, which includes lithium and is directly related to the “Jadar” project, since Europe wants lithium from Serbia, and the “Jadar” project is linked to the agreement Serbia has with Europe.

“Each EU member state has the right to veto a project that may happen on its territory; we in Serbia have vetoed this project. I am not interested in European standards regulations; I am not for the occupation of this country, I do not want a spider in my house, no matter how clean it is in the world; we will not have a mine in the valley of Jadar. Period,” Novaković said.

She added that Rio Tinto can meet all regulations, but it is still a mine and will pollute a place that has clean land, water, and air, so the stance of Marš sa Drine is that Rio Tinto “cannot occupy the country, period.”

Lawyer Sreten Đorđević stated that in the annual report for 2023, submitted to the Tax Administration of Serbia by Rio Sava, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, established for lithium exploitation, there is a noticeable trend of increased spending on the “Jadar” project, even though it was abolished by the Serbian government in January 2022.

“In the last three years, that project has been developing incomparably faster than in the 17 years that the company has existed,” Đorđević said.

He added that in the report submitted by Rio Sava to the Business Registers Agency (APR), there are no indications that the “Jadar” project is stopping but is developing “with undiminished intensity.”

“Rio Tinto has invested €511.2 million in the ‘Jadar’ project through its companies since the establishment of Rio Sava, and the majority has been used to cover losses from previous years, which amounted to €487.8 million by the end of 2023. From 2019 to 2023, the company had a net loss of only 44.5 billion dinars, which is significantly higher than the losses from the establishment until 2018 when the losses amounted to 12.6 billion dinars,” said Đorđević.

He noted that “this is a huge investment from 2019 to 2023 that is generated as a loss because there is no production.”

There are two key items within the expenses of the company Rio Sava, he said, and those are “other analysis and research services” where €173 million was spent, related to the costs of drilling and exploitation wells and the costs of feasibility study, and the other item includes non-production services where €143 million was spent.

According to him, non-production services are the costs of consulting services in the country and related parties abroad for the purpose of research for the “Jadar” project.

“The feasibility study was submitted in its final form to the competent authorities as early as 2021, so it is not clear whether it was false, so a new one is being done, or costs for something else are recorded under this item,” Đorđević said.

He stated that Rio Tinto spent a total of €332 million from 2019 to 2023 for the realization of the “Jadar” project through related parties in the country and abroad, and that the names of related parties on which money was spent in the country are not listed, except for the company “Dunav Exploration”.

Đorđević emphasized that he reasonably suspects that faculties in Belgrade, including the Faculty of Agriculture, were engaged in the preparation of the feasibility study, and that the names of some reference experts who did not participate in its preparation are mentioned, and that in Rio Tinto’s business documentation, it is stated that the names are business secrets, and the faculties refuse to disclose them.

According to Đorđević, the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance assessed that the names of professors who worked on the feasibility study cannot be a secret because faculties are funded from the budget, with the money of all citizens.

Đorđević called on the Business Registers Agency to publish all data on transfer prices from contracts because “only then could it be determined what stands behind the costs.”

He also said that the Ministry of Mining and Energy of Serbia was asked to provide data on the revenues that Serbia would have from lithium exploitation based on taxes, contributions, and fees, and they received “nothing” because the data is redacted, so there is a reasonable suspicion of the connection between Rio Tinto and the state.

According to the data published by the Rio Tinto representative from the Ergo group’s analysis, Serbia’s annual revenue from lithium exploitation based on taxes, contributions, and mining fees would be, as Đorđević said, €180 million. In that analysis, as he said, it is stated that Serbia would receive that revenue only after the expiration of the subsidy period, so he called on the state to publish data on the amount and duration of subsidies.

Đorđević said that Rio Tinto is listed in the European Union (EU) registry as a lobbying organization with the note “accession of Serbia to the EU,” which leads to the conclusion that this could not be done without a connection with the Government of Serbia.

He emphasized that he would like Rio Tinto to initiate legal proceedings against Marš sa Drine when, under a court order, the company would have to disclose all business data.

According to him, the Financial Police of the Tax Administration has the right to re-examine Rio Tinto’s business and is expected to react in order to dispel all doubts.

He said that despite the fact that, after citizens’ protests, the “Jadar” project was stopped, by abolishing the Spatial Plan for the Area of Special Purpose, the facts show that work on its realization continues because representatives of the road construction company Bechtel, who were found in that area, “do not mow the grass, although this was claimed by the representative of Rio Sava.”

Đorđević said that it is time for the Prosecutor’s Office to get involved because the facts show that the abolished project has actually been continued because infrastructure is being built that would serve its purpose.

“The fast road Lajkovac-Loznica is being built, the Valjevo-Loznica railway is planned, the construction of a high-voltage power grid Valjevo-Gornje Nedeljice is underway, and gasification from Lazarevac to Gornje Nedljice is also underway, although Loznica has a gas pipeline network from two directions, from Šabac and from Bosnia,” Đorđević said.

He emphasized that government documents state that these projects are being implemented due to large industrial projects that do not exist in that area unless the “Jadar” project is realized.

Source : Danas

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