Russian watchdog files $2 billion lawsuit against Nornickel for fuel spill damage

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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s environment watchdog said on Thursday that it had filed a lawsuit against a power business owned by mining giant Norilsk Nickel (MM:GMKN) to claim 148 billion roubles ($1.96 billion) for environmental damage caused by a fuel leak earlier this year.

The spill occurred on May 29 after a fuel tank lost pressure and released 21,000 tonnes of diesel into rivers and subsoil near the city of Norilsk in Siberia. Greenpeace has compared the incident to the 1989 Exxon (NYSE:XOM) Valdez oil spill off Alaska.

The watchdog had previously asked Nornickel to pay this sum voluntarily. Nornickel argued with it over the sum but set aside $2 billion in reserves, which caused a slump in its first-half net profit.

Nornickel did not reply to a Reuters request for comment on Thursday.

Some analysts have said that the amount is not critical to the financial stability of the $41-billion mining giant but it could prompt it to increase debt and reduce dividends.

Nornickel shares were down 1.2% in Moscow on Thursday, underperforming the benchmark index (IMOEX), which was broadly stable.

($1 = 75.5790 roubles)

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