THE Ministerio Público Federal (MPF), the Brazilian prosecutors’ office, has charged 21 people with qualified homicide over Samarco’s Fundão tailings dam collapse in November 2015 that killed 19 people.
Two dams collapsed at Samarco’s iron ore mine in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, releasing a 60m m3 mudslide that cut off water supplies for hundreds of thousands of people, destroyed several villages and 600 homes, and contaminated hundreds of kilometres of the Rio Doce river. The MPF has already brought a civil action against Samarco, a joint venture between BHP Billiton and Vale, seeking R$155bn (US$43.5bn), but is now bringing individual criminal charges for company executives it believes are implicated. If found guilty, the accused may face up to 54 years in prison.
Amongst those charged with homicide are Samarco president Ricardo Vescovi de Aragão and Samarco director of operations and infrastructure Kleber Luiz de Mendonça Terra, as well as 11 members of Samarco’s board, three operational managers in the company, and five Vale and BHP Billiton representatives involved with Samarco governance. The 21 people are also being charged with environmental crimes.
MPF is also charging Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton with 12 different environmental crimes, including against flora and fauna and polluting inhabited areas and damaging cultural heritage. Another company, VOGBR, and its senior engineer Samuel Santana Paes Loures, has been charged with issuing a false environmental report and a misleading statement about the stability of the Fundão dam.
In addition to the criminal charges, the MPF is seeking compensation for the victims, which it is says will be determined by the courts during the proceedings.
BHP Billiton says that it notes the statement from the Brazilian prosecutors’ office but that it has yet to receive formal notification.
“BHP Billiton Brasil rejects outright the charges against the company and the affected individuals. We will defend the charges against the company, and fully support each of the affected individuals in their defence of the charges against them,” the company said.
Meanwhile Vale told Reuters that the prosecutors ignored evidence that company executives were unaware that the dam would be able to fail.
A report into the disaster released in September blamed flaws in the design of the dam, aggravated by three small earthquakes shortly before the failure, which liquefied the tailings and forced them through the walls.
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