By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s federal prosecutors’ office filed criminal charges on Thursday, October 20th, against twenty-two individuals and four companies in connection with the November 2015 collapse of the Samarco dam in Mariana, Minas Gerais, which left nineteen people dead and 250 injured. The charges include homicide, fraudulent monitoring reports, and environmental crimes.
“The murders were committed for futile reasons and so were considered qualified, which may result in a higher penalty, since it has been proven that the cause was the greed of Samarco and its shareholders,” prosecutor Eduardo de Oliveira said in a press conference on Thursday.
According to prosecutors, the four companies (Samarco, BHP, Vale and VogBr) were aware of the risks but due to the ‘pursuit of profit’ chose to ignore them. VogBr, along with its engineer, Samuel Loures, was accused of issuing false stability reports about the dam.
Among those charged were directors, managers, Samarco board of administration members, as well as representatives from Samarco parent companies, BHP Billiton and Vale, including two Americans, one Australian, one South African, a Brit and a French representative from
The two multinational mining companies, BHP and Vale, were quick to respond to the latest charges filed against them by Brazilian officials.
“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 defense of the charges against them,” read the statement released by the Australian mining giant.
Vale stated on its website that it ‘vehemently rejects the complaint today (October 20th) by federal prosecutors, who, choosing to disregard the overwhelming evidence presented … that revealed the absence of any prior knowledge of real risks to the Fundão dam by Vale and its executives and employees, trying to unfairly and at all costs, place on them some form of responsibility’.
Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton were charged with twelve environmental crimes, including floods, landslides, crimes against fauna and flora, crimes against urban planning and against the cultural heritage. Penalties, according to prosecutors, include fines, temporary ban, ineligibility for government loans and requirement to restore degraded areas.