BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Authorities charged nearly two dozen Brazilian mining executives with homicide on Thursday for allegedly ignoring dangers before the collapse of a dam last year that killed 19 people.
The charges follow a year-long investigation into the Nov. 5, 2015, breach of Samarco's Fundão tailings dam in southeast Brazil.
Brazilian federal prosecutors leveled charges against 21 executives of Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd. and their joint venture, Samarco Mineração SA, MarketWatch reported Thursday.
Among those charged are Samarco CEO Ricardo Vescovi and five Vale and BHP board members. Two American citizens are among those named as defendants.
Additional charges include crimes of causing a flood, landslide and grave bodily harm.
In addition to killing 19 people, the disaster polluted miles of Brazilian waterways. A massive slide caused the dam to collapse and continued for hundreds of miles before it ultimately reached the Atlantic Ocean.
Prosecutors claim the executives were aware of the potential for disaster around the dam but did nothing about it. The motivation, they say, was money.
"Security was always of secondary importance. The increase in production at Samarco sought to compensate for the falling value of the ore in order, not only to maintain, but also to boost profits and dividends," prosecutor Jose Leite Sampaio said at a news conference Thursday.
Vale said in a statement that it "vehemently rejects the charges" and BHP said it "rejects outright the charges against the company and the affected individuals."
BHP conducted an investigation into the dam collapse earlier this year.
The charges must be approved by a judge before the case can go to trial.