Brazil's federal police say it would charge three mining companies, including Samarco and Vale, and seven executives of those firms with environmental crimes in connection with a deadly tailings dam breach last November.
Vale, the world’s largest iron-ore exporter, co-owns Samarco in a 50-50 joint venture with BHP Billiton, but Brazilian police have not filed charges against the Anglo-Australian mining giant.
Samarco is the owner of the Fundao tailings dam that collapsed on November 5 of last year, causing an avalanche of waste water that buried several hamlets in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, left 17 dead and two missing and contaminated a 650-kilometre stretch of the Doce River and a section of the Atlantic coastline.
Police also filed charges against engineering company VogBR, which said in a report last year that the tailings dam was stable.
Samarco chief executive Ricardo Vescovi and other executives of that mining JV are facing criminal charges, as is the VogBR engineer who signed off on the tailings dam stability study.
The investigation is ongoing and more charges could still be filed against companies or individuals, the federal police said.
Police in Minas Gerais are still investigating the companies’ role in the 17 deaths and the material damage caused by the avalanche, which Brazil’s federal government has described as the worst environmental disaster in the nation’s history.
President Dilma Rousseff’s administration thus far has handed down fines against the mining companies, while the Brazilian courts have frozen assets of Vale and BHP Billiton to cover the payment of damages to those affected by the disaster.