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RULING PUTS UTAH NAVAJOS CLOSER TO CONTROLLING OIL, GAS ROYALTIES

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A federal judge has given victory to Utah Navajos seeking to gain control over millions of dollars in oil and natural gas royalties from holdings in San Juan County.

Currently, Chuska Energy Co. is paying the royalties directly to the Navajo Nation, which has its headquarters in Window Rock, Ariz. State attorneys argue that money belongs in the Utah Navajo Trust Fund.The fund, established by Congress in 1933, is meant to benefit the 7,000 tribal members now living on the Utah portion of the three-state reservation.

Assistant Attorney General Paul Smith said Thursday that U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene ruled in favor of the state. The decision was reached last week, but a final order is pending, she explained.

If the ruling is upheld through expected appeals, the ruling could substantially increase "revenues which are sorely needed and can be beneficially used for the Navajos in San Juan County," said state Treasurer Ed Alter, who is chairman of the $11 million trust.

The trust has been drained of millions of dollars over the years due to waste, fraud and corruption, auditors have alleged.

That scandal, which led to the recent bribery indictments of seven tribal officials and other individuals, is unrelated to the Chuska dispute.

As established, the trust fund is to receive 37.5 percent of royalties paid by companies drilling on leased land in the Utah part of the reservation.