Brazilian state prosecutors on Jan.21 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. The 16 individuals charged had worked for Vale or TUV SUD, prosecutors said.
The charges, which were presented nearly a year after the collapse of a Vale dam in the state of Minas Gerais, represent a major step forward in Brazilian authorities’ attempt to hold individuals criminally responsible for the disaster.
Reuters reported earlier this month that prosecutors were set to file criminal charges in the coming days.
Andressa de Oliveira Lanchotti, a state prosecutor, told Reuters at the time that Vale and TUV SUD employees knew the dam was at risk of collapsing and failed to act. She said state prosecutors believed TUV SUD had a significant interest in signing off on the dam’s security, particularly after Vale had fired a different inspection firm that declined to do so.
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 percent in afternoon trade in Sao Paulo on Tuesday.
In a statement, TUV SUD said it “continues to be deeply saddened by the tragic collapse of the dam in Brumadinho,” adding that the company’s thoughts “are with the victims and their families.”
It added, however, that it believed the causes of the accident had not yet been definitively determined.
“We continue offering our cooperation to authorities in Brazil and Germany regarding ongoing investigations,” the company said.
Federal prosecutors and police are also investigating the Brumadinho disaster and could bring additional charges at the federal level in the future.
Vale did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
By Marta Nogueira