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article imageBrazil judge to hear Samarco mine homicide cases

By AFP     Nov 18, 2016 in Crime

A Brazilian federal judge has accepted homicide and environmental criminal charges against 22 people and four mining companies involved in last year's deadly Samarco dam burst.

Judge Jacques de Queiroz Ferreira gave the green light to prosecutors who accuse Samarco and its co-owners Vale and BHP Billiton, as well as the VogBR consultancy, of culpability in the November 5 collapse of an iron ore tailings dam in the Minas Gerais region. Nineteen people were killed.

The ruling, seen by AFP, was signed Wednesday but only made public on Friday.

The companies -- which did not immediately respond to the ruling, but have previously rejected the accusations -- are charged with crimes against the environment.

Twenty one people, including senior executives, face charges of "qualified homicide" and environmental crimes. A VogBR engineer is charged with having falsely certified the dam as stable prior to its collapse.

The defendants have 30 days to respond.

The Samarco dam burst unleashed a torrent of mud down the River Doce, a major waterway.

It was branded Brazil's worst environmental disaster, drawing comparisons with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion which killed 11 workers and triggered a devastating spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A firefighter walks in the mud in Bento Rodrigues  three days after an avalanche of mud and mining s...
A firefighter walks in the mud in Bento Rodrigues, three days after an avalanche of mud and mining sludge buried the town in southeastern Brazil, on November 8, 2015
Chirstophe Simon, AFP/File

Prosecutors denounced the mining companies for reckless policies "to boost profits and dividends."

Samarco says that the accident was impossible to foresee and that it is compensating victims' families and helping to restore environmental damage.

The mining companies have agreed to pay billions of dollars in compensation but in May prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit against Vale, BHP and Samarco seeking 155 billion reais ($49 billion).

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