The former chief executive of mining group Vale was on Tuesday charged with homicide by prosecutors in Brazil for his role in a dam disaster last year that killed more than 250 people.
Fabio Schvartsman led the world’s largest iron ore miner for more than 18 months until the rupture and collapse of the tailings dam in Brazil’s rural Brumadinho township almost a year ago.
He is among 16 former and current executives to face homicide charges from state prosecutors in Minas Gerais. Vale and Tüv Süd, a German safety compliance group, were also charged with environmental crimes. A parallel federal investigation is expected to bring further charges in the coming weeks.
“Ultimately, the organs of the state of Minas Gerais intend to present society with some answers about the crime and who should be held accountable,” said William Garcia Coelho, a state prosecutor.
“We are convinced such crimes must face process and judgment. We believe that people should be held responsible for what happened.”
Vale has repeatedly expressed contrition for the collapse of the dam, which unleashed a torrent of industrial waste, drowning 259 workers and residents and destroying multiple homes.
But it has been unable to escape claims that it knew the dam was in danger of collapse and failed to take emergency action.
The reputation of the Rio de Janeiro-headquartered group has been further tarnished by an acrimonious dispute with Tüv Süd. Following the disaster in Brumadinho, Tüv Süd claimed Vale pressured it to sign off on the dam’s safety, after other auditors refused to do so — an allegation the mining group denies.
On Tuesday, the German group said it is “still very much interested in clarifying the facts of the dam breach and therefore continues to offer its co-operation to the responsible authorities and institutions in Brazil and Germany in the context of the ongoing investigations.”
Vale said it was “perplexed” by the accusations: “It is important to remember that other agencies are also investigating this case . . . Vale trusts in the complete clarification of the causes of the rupture and reaffirms its commitment to continue contributing to the authorities.”
A lawyer for Mr Schvartsman said: “Charging Fabio with intentional homicide is unfair and inadequate because the investigations are not yet finished . . . This attempt to punish those who, since the beginning, fulfilled their duty and stood by the authorities to investigate what happened and repair the damage, is unjust and regrettable.”
Late last year, an independent panel of experts said several factors, including design, poor drainage and heavy rainfall, caused the dam breach at the Córrego do Feijão mine.
Peter Robertson, a geotechnical expert who chaired the technical investigation, refused to attribute responsibility for the disaster, but said that the company was aware of the high water level in the dam and “were taking actions to lower it”.
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