Criminal charges could be filed in Vale tailings dam collapse

January 8, 2020

According to a report from Reuters, state prosecutors in Brazil could bring criminal charges against 15 to 20 people for their roles related to the tailings dam collapse at a Vale mine in Brumadinho, Brazil in January 2019 that left at least 259 people dead.

Among those who could face criminal charges are executives and employees from Vale, the mine’s owner, and employees from German inspection firm TÜV SÜD - as well as the companies themselves.

In September 2019, Federal police proposed criminal charges against Vale, TÜV SÜD and 13 of their employees, accusing the companies of working with falsified documents attesting to the stability of the dam.

“What we can take away from the investigations is there were several factors pointing to risk - the risk was not unknown,” Andressa de Oliveira Lanchotti, coordinator for the task force of state prosecutors investigating the disaster, told Reuters.

Prosecutors have said they believe TÜV SÜD had a vested interest in signing off on the dam’s safety so that it could get more work from Vale, which had fired another inspection firm which refused to certify the dam’s safety.

“There was a conflict of interest between TÜV SÜD and Vale because TÜV SÜD had lucrative contracts with Vale for other activities, to decommission dams, which makes obvious the regulatory shortcomings here,” she said.

A Vale spokesman said a panel of experts appointed by its lawyers found that the Brumadinho collapse had happened “abruptly and without apparent previous signs that could have been detected by geotechnical monitoring instruments usually employed by the global mining industry.” 

The federal prosecutor’s office in Minas Gerais state said it had hired geological experts from the University of Catalunya in Spain to examine what triggered the collapse at Brumadinho. That investigation will take until February and could be crucial in establishing Vale’s culpability, federal prosecutor Jose Adercio Leite Sampaio said in an interview.

Federal and state prosecutors have pledged to coordinate more closely in the Brumadinho investigation, acknowledging that the probe into Brazil’s last big mining disaster - a dam burst at a joint venture between Vale and Anglo-Australian miner BHP Group - was undermined by disputes over areas of responsibility.

Photo: mine tailings after the collapse of the tailings dam in Brumadinho. Shutterstock.


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