The federal court received an information filed last week by the Public Prosecution Service (MPF) against the 22 individuals involved in the burst of the Fundão dam dam, near the district of Bento Rodrigues, in the town of Mariana, Minas Gerais state. Twenty-one of these people have been charged with causing flooding, landslide, bodily harm, and homicide with assumption of risk.
Samarco, which controls the dam, and its shareholders Vale and BHP Billiton are also facing charges of a number of environmental crimes. Engineer Samuel Loures and firm VogBR will answer for the release of a deceptive report on the stability of the dam.
Regarded as Brazil's biggest environmental tragedy, the episode that left 19 dead took place a year ago, on November 5, 2015. The sludge wreak havoc in local communities, destroyed native vegetation and polluted the Rio Doce Basin. Some 43 m ³ of mud are still drifting in the area between the burst dam and the hydroelectric plant Tout.
Among the charged are various Samarco employees. Eleven are members of the administration board, which includes representatives from Vale and BHP Billiton. If all charges lead to a conviction, individual sentences may reach 54 years in jail, in addition to fines and compensation for the damage suffered by victims.
Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton were charged for 12 environmental crimes, including pollution, flooding, landslides, crimes against the fauna and flora, crimes against urban planning and cultural heritage. The punishments for the companies include fines, temporary interdictions, ban on contracts with the government, and community services, like funding programs of environmental agencies and entities, and carrying out works in degraded areas.
In the note, Samarco reported that the complaint filed by the prosecutors disregards the statements made during the investigation that produced evidence of the lack of prior knowledge of risks.
Vale also issued a press release rejecting the complaint. According to the company, the complaint allegedly disregarded extensive evidence produced, the reasonableness, statements made in almost a year of investigation that produced evidence of the lack of any previous knowledge of real risks.
The text adds that the mining company has never performed operational management acts in Samarco or even in the Fundão dam, and that it has always been assured to the members of the Board of Directors and advisory committees of Samarco that the Fundão dam was regularly assessed, not only by legally competent authorities, but also by the renowned group of international independent consultants.
BHP Billiton also opposed the prosecution and reported that it will stand in defense of its employees. "The decision of the Federal Court does not bring in a guilty verdict, but it is a procedural stage that marks the beginning of the criminal action," added the company in a note.
The criminal action was filed by the MPF on October 19. The 272-page document reports problems in the dam. When filing the complaint, prosecutors considered that Samarco's greed was the cause of the tragedy. Internal documents of the mining company from 2015 obtained by the MPF prepared a forecast in case the dam collapsed, pointing out the possibility of approximately 20 deaths and the interruption of the company's activities for up to two years.
Aware of the risks, the company allegedly gave priority to economic outcomes at the expense of security practices. "Samarco had a risk management sector. Instead of interrupting the activities of the dam, the company was irresponsible for continuing its operations, "said prosecutor Jorge Munhós.
Translated by Anchieta/Amaryllis Fabrício Ferreira