By Marta Nogueira
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazilian state prosecutors on Tuesday charged Fabio Schvartsman, the former chief executive of mining giant Vale SA, and 15 other people with homicide for a dam disaster last year that killed more than 250 people, according to the charging document seen by Reuters.
In addition to homicide charges, Vale and TUV SUD, the German company responsible for inspecting the dam, were charged with environmental crimes. Of the 16 individuals charged, 11 had worked for Vale and five for TUV SUD, prosecutors said.
The charges, which were presented nearly a year after the collapse of a Vale tailings dam in the state of Minas Gerais, represent a major step forward in Brazilian authorities’ attempt to hold individuals criminally responsible for the disaster.
In a televised press conference, prosecutors alleged Vale and TUV SUD systematically and intentionally hid information about safety issues at its tailings dams in the years leading up to the collapse.
“Vale, with the support of TUV SUD, produced a large amount of technical information about …various dams owned and managed by Vale, that were recognized, I repeat, internally recognized, as dams with an unacceptable risk profile,” said William Garcia Pinto Coelho, a prosecutor on the case.
In separate comments, Vale, TUV SUD and a representative for Schvartsman said it was premature to assign fault for the rupture, given that other prosecutorial bodies were still looking into the matter.
Federal police and prosecutors are investigating the dam collapse and could bring additional charges at the federal level. Investigators in Germany, where TUV SUD is based, are also looking into the matter.
“Vale right away expresses that it is perplexed by the accusations of willful misconduct. It’s important to point out that other bodies are also looking into the case,” the company said in a statement.
TUV SUD said it “continues to be deeply saddened by the tragic collapse of the dam in Brumadinho,” adding that it believed the causes of the accident had not yet been definitively determined.
A representative for Schvartsman pointed out that a federal police report on the matter was not due until June.
The collapse of the Vale tailings dam on Jan. 25, 2019 in the town of Brumadinho was one of the world’s deadliest mining accidents and knocked $19 billion off Vale’s market value in a single day.
Vale shares were down 2.5% in late afternoon trade in Sao Paulo.
(Reporting by Marta Nogueira; Additional reporting by Luciano Costa and Marcelo Rochabrun; Writing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Gram Slattery; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)