Brazil’s federal police have formally accused iron ore miner Samarco, a joint venture between Vale (NYSE:VALE) and BHP Billiton (ASX, NYSE:BHP), of deliberate misconduct in relation to a catastrophic dam failure that killed 19 people and polluted hundreds of miles of rivers last November.
The official police seven-month investigation concluded that, for years, Samarco ignored clear signs the dam was at risk of failing, including cracks and drainage problems at the Fundão tailings dam that collapsed Nov. 5.
Police added that Samarco skimmed on safety spending and focused instead on increasing production, Folha de S.Paulo reports (in Portuguese).
Officials also accused Vale — because it deposited its own mining waste into the dam — and VogBR, the service company that checked the safety of the dam, of wilful misconduct.
Eight executives were also accused, although the police did not disclose their names.
The case will now be passed to prosecutors to decide whether to press charges.
In an e-mailed statement Samarco rejected all claims it was aware of an imminent risk of collapse at the dam, which held waste from its iron ore mine.
“The dam was always declared stable,” the company said, adding that increases to the dam’s size were done in accordance with the project’s design.
Rio de Janeiro-based Vale is the world’s number one iron ore producer and BHP comes in at number three behind fellow Australian miner Rio Tinto (ASX, LON:RIO).