Samarco top executives take leave two months after Brazil dam burst

Two top executives of Brazilian company Samarco Mineração SA, the joint venture between BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP) and Vale (NYSE:VALE) involved in last year’s deadly dam burst at an iron ore mine, are taking a temporary leave of absence.

According to the company, chief executive Ricardo Vescovi and operations chief Kleber Terra, will focus now on preparing their defence as Brazil’s Federal police accused them of crimes relating to the Nov.5 incident that killed 17 people and polluted 850 kilometres (530 miles) of waterways in two states of southeast Brazil.

Prosecutors, noted the firm in an e-mailed statement, have not yet formally charged the executives. However, they face increasing accusations of mismanagement. The latest came from Brazil's TV Globo, which reported Sunday (in Portuguese) it had obtained documents showing that consultants hired by Samarco had warned management more than two years ago that safety was compromised at the Mariana dam.

According to the report, Minas Gerais investigators believe that Samarco also neglected key documents to obtain the dam's license. The company denies such accusations.

Brazil's federal government and Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo states filed a lawsuit in November asking Samarco, Vale and BHP to pay about $5 billion in damages.

Samarco top executives take leave two months after Brazil dam burst

The disaster in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state that killed at least 17 people and left hundreds homeless, caused sludge to wash downstream into neighbouring state Espírito Santo through remote mountain valleys reaching the Atlantic ocean 600 kilometres away. (Screenshot from PigMine 7, via YouTube)