Toronto-based HudBay Minerals Inc. said Tuesday that it will investigate allegations that security personnel, along with members of the police and military, attacked and gang-raped several women in 2007 during efforts to clear people from lands near a mining project in Guatemala.
However, the company said the accusations in a $55-million lawsuit against the company and a subsidiary contradict available information and that it would defend itself "vigorously against them."
"HudBay and its subsidiaries are disturbed by the serious nature of the allegations, which run counter to our values and the manner in which we operate," the company said in a statement.
"We will investigate the allegations but they are counter to all of the available information we have regarding the events of January 2007 and as such we intend to defend ourselves vigorously against them."
A group of 11 women from Guatemala have sued the Canadian company and its subsidiaries in an Ontario court. They are seeking $11 million in general damages and $44 million in punitive damages for the alleged gang rapes in 2007.
The suit alleges the women were attacked by security personnel from Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel, along with members of the police and military who were forcibly removing families from a community near a mine.
Allegations unproven in court
The Guatemalan subsidiary, CGN, and its corporate parents are accused of negligence in the supervision of the security personnel and in a request for the forced evictions of the Mayan community of Lote Ocho.
The allegations have yet to be proven in court.
At the time of the events, CGN's parent was HMI Nickel Inc. which was later acquired by HudBay Minerals Inc. The suit says HudBay is "vicariously liable" for its subsidiaries' actions.
"The alleged events predate HudBay Minerals' business interests and operations in Guatemala, and we are not aware that they have ever been reported to Guatemala law enforcement or other authorities," the company said.
"Official government accounts indicate that substantial effort was made to keep the evictions non-violent and, in accordance with Guatemalan law, the evictions were carried out by unarmed police officers."
The suit alleges some attackers wore the uniforms of the Guatemalan subsidiary of HMI Nickel, formerly called Skye Resources.
HudBay acquired Skye and its Fenix nickel project in Guatemala in August 2008, about 18 months after the alleged rapes occurred.
The lawsuit filed Monday is not the first in connection with the project in Guatemala.
Angelica Choc sued HMI and HudBay for negligence in an Ontario court over the 2009 death of her husband, Adolfo Ich Chaman. That case alleges he was beaten and shot by security forces at the mining project.
In addition to its operations in Guatemala, HudBay holds a variety of assets that include gold, zinc and copper mines, along with concentrators and metal production facilities. Its main mining operations are in northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
It also owns a zinc oxide production facility in Ontario and a copper refinery in Michigan.