060809 Goldfields CEO Nick Holland and Paul Schmidt at the company's annual results held at Summer place .photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi

Johannesburg - Gold Fields Ltd., which spun off most of its South African mines last year, said its St Ives operation in Australia was named in a lawsuit brought by indigenous people claiming land.

The claim by the Ngadju people relates to an area covering about 250 mining tenements, or production areas, held by St Ives, Johannesburg-based Gold Fields said in a statement today.

The State of Western Australia is lead respondent in the case, while St Ives is named as an additional respondent, it said.

Gold Fields bought St Ives, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the town of Kalgoorlie, in 2001, operates four underground mines there and owns an area covering 99,594 hectares, according to its website.

The company extended its presence in the region last year with the purchase of three mines from Barrick Gold Corp.

“Gold Fields is strongly of the view that the assertions made by the Ngadju people are unfounded and without merit,” the company said in a statement.

“It has engaged senior counsel and is vigorously defending its position in these proceedings.”

Gold Fields dropped as much as 6.2 percent to 36.59 rand in Johannesburg trading, the biggest intraday decline since November 21, and was at 38 rand at 10:39 a.m.

The Ngadju people claim that 210 of the 250 mining tenements held by Gold Fields aren’t valid because the Native Title Act 1993 was not followed when the company acquired the assets and at other times, according to the statement.

Proceedings will begin in March and a decision isn’t expected for between six and 12 months, Gold Fields said. - Bloomberg News