BRUMADINHO, Brazil—Brazilian state prosecutors charged
and 10 others from the mining company with homicide Tuesday in an effort to hold it to account for last year’s dam collapse that killed 270 people.
Prosecutors for the state of Minas Gerais also leveled homicide charges at five individuals at Germany’s TÜV SÜD, the auditing company that certified the mine-waste dam as safe only months before it gave way. All 16 individuals, as well as both companies as entities, were also charged with environmental crimes, according to a statement released Tuesday.
After a yearlong investigation into the breach on Jan. 25, 2019, in southeastern Brazil, prosecutors said it was clear that the dam had presented a critical structural risk since at least 2017. Vale and TÜV SÜD were both “fully aware” of the dam’s safety problems, they said.
A spokeswoman for Vale said the company didn’t have an immediate comment. TÜV SÜD didn’t comment on Tuesday’s charges but said it was cooperating with the authorities and was committed to clarifying the facts of the dam’s rupture, one of the world’s deadliest in recent history.
Last month, state prosecutors told the Journal they were investigating 16 people for the collapse, including Mr. Schvartsman.
Authorities have faced intense pressure to bring charges in the case ahead of the first anniversary on Saturday of the tragedy, which has sparked anger in Brazil and sent shock waves through the global mining industry. Rescue workers are still digging through the hardened mud near the mine here in Brumadinho for the remains of the last 11 victims.
A judge must accept the prosecutors’ charges before the accused can face trial. Legal experts expect the case to drag on for years as the defendants battle their charges through several levels of Brazil’s slow-moving court system.
Brazilian federal prosecutors are set to follow their state counterparts by filing their own charges in the case later this year. Police already recommended charges against seven lower-level employees of Vale and six individuals at TÜV SÜD in September last year, accusing them of falsifying the dam’s safety audits.
The Jan. 25 collapse came just over three years after another mine-waste dam that Vale owned with
BHP Group Ltd.
ruptured in the nearby town of Mariana, killing 19 people in another of Brazil’s worst environmental disasters. Prosecutors charged more than 20 people with homicide at the time, but courts have since watered down those charges or thrown them out.
Brazil’s Deadly Dam Collapse
Vale vowed never to let another of its dams collapse after the 2015 disaster. Yet a Journal investigation last month found that top management paid scant attention over recent years to the company’s dams, which cost money and generated no returns. Meanwhile, bosses in charge of the Brumadinho site cut corners, ignoring warning signs and denying requests for extra safety measures on several occasions because of budget constraints, the Journal found.
In October last year, the Journal reported that prosecutors were examining the possibility of filing charges against Vale’s senior executives on the basis of a legal doctrine known in the U.S. as “willful blindness”—the idea that it is illegal for a person to intentionally stay unaware of facts to avoid liability.
A spokesman for Vale denied that staff members were encouraged to cut costs on safety, saying the miner had increased total spending on its dams since the Mariana disaster. Vale was never aware of any critical or imminent risk to the structure at Brumadinho, he said.
Engineers hired by Vale to study the technical causes of the dam’s collapse in Brumadinho found that so much water had been allowed to build up inside the structure that it was only a matter of time before the 280-foot dam gave way, according to their findings released last month.
The Brumadinho tailings dam disaster in Brazil has killed more than 100 people, with hundreds more missing and feared dead. This video shows the moment the disaster began. Photo: AP/Globo TV (Originally Published Feb. 1, 2019)
In the wake of the Jan. 25 tragedy, Brazil banned the construction of dams built in the same way as the ones that collapsed in Brumadinho and Mariana, and gave miners until 2027 to dismantle their existing ones. Abroad, the disaster has sent Vale’s competitors scrambling to check their own mine-waste dams at the behest of regulators and investors.
Write to Luciana Magalhaes at Luciana.Magalhaes@wsj.com and Samantha Pearson at email@example.com
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