- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

BIRMINGHAM, ALA. (AP) - The children of three slain Colombian union leaders filed a lawsuit Friday reviving claims that the men’s U.S.-based employer was responsible for their killings outside a coal mine eight years ago.

A similar lawsuit filed by the men’s union and widows ended with a verdict for mine operator Drummond Co. Inc. in 2007. But the plaintiffs, who want the company pay for their fathers’ deaths, now have access to a key witness who couldn’t testify in the first trial because he was in prison, their attorneys say.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Birmingham by eight children of Valmore Locarno, Victor Orcasita and Gustavo Soler, who all worked at Drummond’s huge coal mine at La Loma. It seeks an unspecified amount of money to punish the company and compensate for the killings.

Locarno, a maintenance worker and president of the local union, and Orcasita, another union official, were taken off a company bus outside the mine in 2001 and shot to death. Soler, who succeeded Locarno as the union president, was killed seven months later in similar fashion.

The lawsuit contends Drummond paid paramilitary forces to kill the men, a claim denied by Drummond and rejected by jurors in the company’s hometown of Birmingham two years ago. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict in December.

An attorney for the children, Terry Collingsworth, said the outcome could be different in a second trial since jurors should now be able to hear the testimony of the new witness, Rafael Garcia. He has claimed he saw Drummond’s top Colombian executive give “a briefcase full of cash” to an illegal right-wing militia to have two of the three union leaders murdered.

Garcia was in prison in Colombia during the first trial and could not testify. He has since been freed and is out of the country.

“He is in a safe place and is enthusiastic about having a chance to testify,” said Collingsworth.

Drummond officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment, but the company has called the killings tragic.

Besides the Alabama company, the suit named as defendants Drummond Ltd., its Colombian subsidiary; Drummond Ltd. CEO Augusto Jimenez; and Alfredo Araujo, a Drummond vice president identified as a close friend of a Colombian paramilitary leader Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, who is also known as “Jorge 40.”

No criminal investigation exists in Colombia regarding either Jimenez or Araujo in the killing of the three union leaders, said Carlos Camargo, deputy director of the human rights division of Colombia’s chief prosecutor’s office.

He told The Associated Press that several lower-level paramilitary gunmen were, however, being investigated in the killings.

Pupo was extradited to the United States last year to stand trial on drug-trafficking charges.

The new suit, like the original case, was filed under the more than 200-year-old Alien Torts Claims Act, which lets foreigners file suit in U.S. courts for alleged wrongdoing overseas.

The initial suit was the first one filed against a U.S. corporation under the law to ever make it to trial.


Associated Press Writer Libardo Cardona in Bogota, Colombia contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS ADDS comment from Colombia official, details. corrects spelling of ‘Alabama’ in headline.)

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