Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Brazilian prosecutors on Tuesday charged executives from a Brazilian mining company and a German safety firm with murder and environmental crimes in a 2019 dam collapse that killed 270 people.
Fabio Schvartsman, the former chief executive of the Brazilian mining company Vale, and 10 other senior executives from the company as well as five employees from the German company TUV SUD, which it hired to assess the stability of its dams, were among those charged.
State prosecutor William Garcia Pinto Coelho said Vale officials knew the dam in Brumadinho was at risk of collapse since at least November 2017 and was on an internal list of 10 dams at risk of bursting.
The dam collapsed on Jan. 25, sending a wall of water and waste sludge slamming into homes, vehicles and a group of about 100 miners taking a lunch break while more than 400 people were working in the mines.
Pinto Coelho added that there was a relationship of "pressure, collusion, rewards and conflict of interest between Vale and TUV SUD."
Vale executives hid evidence of safety concerns and retaliated against auditing firms that flagged problems while TUV SUD was compensated for presenting Vale misleading reports about the stability of its dams.
"The object of these omissions was to avoid any negative reputational impacts to Vale that could affect its market value," he said. "TUV SUD and Vale systematically concealed from society, shareholders and investors the real gravity of the situation."
Pinto Coelho also said Schvartsman "acted directly to create this false impression of complete safety in Vale's dams."
Schvartsman's lawyer, Pierpaolo Bottini, said there was no evidence he had been made aware of the concerns about the dam and Vale issued a statement saying it was "perplexed" by the charges.
"Vale trusts that the causes of the rupture will be completely determined and reaffirms its commitment to continue cooperating with the authorities," the company said.
TUV SUD issued its own statement saying it was cooperating with Brazilian and German authorities and that the causes of the dam bursting "have not been conclusively ascertained."