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Brazil to charge Vale over deadly dam collapse

Christian Fernsby |
Prosecutors plan to file criminal charges against Vale SA and employees of the mining giant over the deadly collapse of a mine-waste dam in January.

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José Adércio Leite Sampaio, the prosecutor heading the probe, said investigators have gathered enough evidence to affirm that Vale employees directly involved in the operation of the mine knew the dam was unsafe. He didn't name the individuals, the lead investigator told The Wall Street Journal.

About 300 people died near the town of Brumadinho in southeastern Brazil on Jan. 25 when the dam collapsed, ranking as the world's deadliest mining disaster of its type in more than 50 years.

"At this point, we know that the operational side knew [that the dam was at risk of collapse], but did Vale's directors know?" Mr. Sampaio said in an interview.

Prosecutors are preparing to file charges for crimes related to the disaster, which could include murder, manslaughter, environmental damage and false representation, he said.

Over the next two to three months, prosecutors expect to determine if senior Vale officials, who were based at the regional office as well as the miner's headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, also knew the dam was at risk of collapse, he said.

Meanwhile, prosecutors are preparing possible criminal charges of false representation against employees of TÜV SÜD, the German inspection firm that certified Vale's dam near Brumadinho as safe four months before it collapsed. Mr. Sampaio said individuals at Vale also could be charged with that crime.

An investigation in February by the Journal found TÜV SÜD and Vale employees knew for months of dangerous conditions at the dam on the outskirts of the town of Brumadinho. Yet TÜV SÜD employees certified the dam as safe, expressing worry about losing contracts with Vale, a major client, the investigation found.

When prosecutors conclude their probe they will file the criminal charges to a judge, who will hear from the workers' defense teams before ruling. If found guilty, the defendants can appeal the decision to higher courts a process that can take years in Brazil.

TÜV SÜD and Vale said they are cooperating with the authorities and carrying out their own separate investigations into the dam's collapse. A lawyer representing TÜV SÜD employees said he would only comment if he is officially notified of the charges.

Vale said it trusted TÜV SÜD to audit the dam correctly.

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