Brazil getting aggressive against BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) and Vale staff over killings in dam burst

According to reports from Brazil, authorities have filed killing charges against 21 people after an iron ore mine disaster in the state of Minas Gerais.

They include several Brazilians, two Americans, a South African, an Australian, a Briton and a French man. These employees were working at that time for the companies involved, Brazil’s Samarco and Vale, and BHP Billiton Limited (ADR)(NYSE:BHP) Billiton.

Last year in November a mine dam burst, killing 19 people and contaminating miles of Brazil’s waterways.

Jose Leite Sampaio, who is the main prosecutorin the case said that the companies were well informed that there was a risk of collapse but they were careless about it. They immediately rejected the charges and said they would defend their staff.

Moreover Mr Sampaio blamed Brazilian mining company Vale, Anglo-Australian giant BHP Billiton and iron ore producer Samarco, which they co-own, of shadowing profits rather than thinking about safety.

“Security was always of secondary importance. The increase in production at Samarco sought to compensate for the falling value of the ore in order, not only to maintain, but also to boost profits and dividends,” Mr Sampaio said in a televised news conference near the site of the disaster.

Meanwhile Vale said in a statement that it “vehemently rejects the charges” and that it would defend its staff members. It said the evidence showed there was no knowledge the dam could fail before the collapse.

BHP also said it completely “rejects outright the charges against the company and the affected individuals. We will defend the charges against the company, and fully support each of the affected individuals in their defence.”

In a disastrous incident, Millions of tonnes of muddy mine waste were released on 5 November 2015 when a dam collapsed. A village was completely demolished as well as drinking water was polluted for hundreds of thousands of people. The mud eventually got mixed with the Atlantic Ocean.

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