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Brazilian prosecutors have filed formal charges against mining company Vale and its former executives including environmental crimes and murder.

The company will face trial alongside German auditor TÜV SÜD after the collapse of a dam in Brumadinho, Brazil killed at least 250 people.

Portuguese news website Universo Online reported that regional police believe Vale and TÜV SÜD had been aware the dam was not strong enough since at least 2017. The Guardian also alleged that a previous leak was fixed with the company’s knowledge. Both companies deny this.

A spokesperson for Vale told Mining Technology: “Vale states that it became aware today, January 21, 2020, of the charges submitted by the Public Prosecution Office of Minas.

“Regardless of the fact that Vale will review all the details of these charges, the company believes the accusations of fraud are perplexing. It is premature to claim there was conscious assumption of risk to cause a deliberate breach of the dam.

“Vale trusts in the complete clarification of the causes of the breach and reaffirms its commitment to continue.”

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A spokesperson for TÜV SÜD said: TÜV SÜD confirms that the state prosecutor’s office… [has brought charges] against TÜV SÜD Bureau de Projetos e Consultoria LTDA as well as five individuals who are, or previously were, active for TÜV SÜD.

“TÜV SÜD is still very much interested in clarifying the facts of the dam breach and therefore continues to offer its cooperation to the responsible authorities.”

Justice and compensation

Director for the mining sector at global union Industriall, Glen Mpufane, told Mining Technology: “We think that the charges are appropriate.

“There has been good reason for litigation, and we applaud the Brazilian prosecutor for heeding the calls from across the impacted communities, trade unions and civil society.

“We need to draw a line in the sand. We pray that the prosecution is successful, because we believe the CEO and their accomplices belong in jail.”

In 2015 a dam collapse flooded an iron mine owned by BHP and Samarco, which has not yet resumed operation. The collapse killed 19 and left hundreds homeless, creating a larger environmental disaster than the Brumadinho flood.

“This comes as a response to calls for justice, but there is another side to this: compensation. Justice will matter, but it won’t put bread on the table. Livelihoods have been destroyed… We are still trying to get compensation from BHP. It’s not in their culture to give compensation.

“Obviously what exists is not robust enough, and there is something wrong. It is a huge development that CEOs could be held personally liable.”

Vale issued a press release on its efforts to clear the resulting flood saying it involved 45 companies and 2,800 workers, at least half of whom are from the region. Mpufane says these efforts have come too late.

“Vale is a proxy for the industry. We believe mining could and can be responsible if you balance the quest for profit and the right thing to do.

“This should be a message to the mining industry to say business as usual is untenable. Mining can be responsible, as we can see on the responsible mining index.”