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article imageBrazil judge to hear Samarco mine homicide cases

By Sebastian Smith (AFP)     Nov 18, 2016 in World

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 indictments accusing 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 have all 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. A judge will then consider the evidence and decide whether to bring the defendants to a jury trial.

Reacting to this week's ruling, the Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton said it had not yet been officially notified about the acceptance of the indictment.

But "BHP Billiton Brasil strongly repudiates the accusations made by the Federal Public Prosecutors against the company and individuals and will defend itself in the course of the proceeding," the company said.

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.

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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