Brazilian prosecutors have filed charges including homicide against 22 people, among them executives at miners BHP Billiton and Vale, in connection with the deaths of 19 people when a dam collapsed last year.
The charges in connection with the disaster at Samarco, an iron ore producer in Brazil jointly owned by Vale and BHP, raise the stakes for the two global miners almost 12 months after the disaster.
All but one of the individuals face homicide charges. Vale, and BHP’s Brazilian subsidiary, are also charged. Samarco and a consulting firm also face charges, Brazilian prosecutors said.
BHP said in a statement that its Brazilian unit “rejects outright the charges against the company and the affected Individuals”. Vale also said it vehemently rejected the charges.
The charges cover eight current or former BHP employees including Jimmy Wilson, who ran BHP’s iron ore business and was on Samarco’s board at the time of the disaster. He has subsequently left BHP.
Peter Poppinga, the head of Vale’s ferrous business, is also among those charged, as well as Ricardo Vescovi, Samarco’s chief executive at the time of the accident.
The dam collapsed on November 5 last year, killing 19 people and sending waste hundreds of miles down Brazil’s river system to the Atlantic.
Vale and BHP have pledged financial support for an independent foundation cleaning up and rebuilding the affected area. Operations at Samarco remain suspended.
The charges came after BHP faced criticism at its annual meeting in London for its response. The company defended the measures it has taken since the accident.
A technical report this year said the dam collapsed after problems in its construction and its drainage system led to changes to its design, but did not apportion blame.
The individuals charged could not be reached for comment.