The top opponent to Newmont Mining Corps. Conga project in Peru has been sentenced to jail for 14 months while corruption charges against him are prepared.
A federal judge in Lima, Peru ordered Gregorio Santos, president of the mineral-rich Cajamarca region in northern Peru, to be held before being tried because he might flee the country or disrupt the corruption inquiry now under way, Reuters reported.
Santos has led the opposition to the $5 billion Conga gold project and his arrest comes just months before he planned to seek a second four-year term as regional president, effectively clearing the electoral path for candidates who might favor the project.
Santos, a member of the communist party Patria Roja and a former peasant patrol leader, led dozens of protests against Conga that forced U.S.-based Newmont to suspend construction on its Conga gold project in 2011.
Prosecutor Walter Delgado said Santos received bribes from companies in exchange for awarding 11 local public work contracts.
Santos has denied wrongdoing and said his appearance at the public hearing was an indication he had no intention of fleeing.
“I am not running away,” Santos told the judge. “I’m here at your disposal and the disposal of justice.”
Santos has called the current inquiry and others before it political persecution aimed at removing him from power so the Conga project can go forward.
Santos is the third regional president in Peru to be detained in recent months as the attorney general's office aims to crack down on corruption of provincial officials.
The Conga project would offset dwindling gold deposits at Newmont's nearby Yanacocha Mine, which is nearing the end of its life. Opponents say Conga would pollute or deplete water sources used by Andean peasants and have rejected the company's plans to build reservoirs for community use.
Newmont controls 51.35 percent of Conga, and Peruvian mining company Buenaventura holds 43.65 percent.