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By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – A Brazilian federal judge has temporarily suspended criminal charges against twenty-two people accused of homicide related to the 2015 Mariana Dam burst, including executives from Samarco, Vale and BHP Billinton. The mudslides from the broken dam contaminating hundreds of thousands of acres of land and leveled nearby villages, killing nineteen persons and injuring 250.

Brazil, Minas Gerais,Massive mudslides leveled villages around the Samarco mining complex,
Massive mudslides leveled villages around the Samarco mining complex, photo by Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil.

Federal Judge Jacques de Queiroz Ferreira accepted the defense’s claim that the proof for the charges by the prosecutor’s office against their clients was based on unlawful wire-tapping of the executives involved.

According to the magistrate the accusations by the defense ‘may lead to the annulment of the case’ and ordered the suspension of the process until telephone companies answer the information requested by the public ministry to clarify if the telephone interceptions were legal.

In October of 2016, Brazil’s federal prosecutors’ office filed criminal charges on Thursday, October 20th, against twenty-two individuals and four companies in connection with the collapse of the Samarco dam in Mariana. The charges included homicide, fraudulent monitoring reports, and environmental crimes.

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.

In addition to criminal charges against its employees, Samarco, Vale and BHP Billinton were ordered to pay R$1.2 billion in fines and restore the ecological balance of the Rio Doce and its margins.

Recorded as the largest environmental disaster in Brazil’s history, the break of a dam in the district of Bento Rodrigues, the massive mudslide polluted the Rio Doce river all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Dozens of communities and villages along the river, home to close to six million inhabitants, were affected by the contamination.

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