Vale–Tüv Süd collusion said to have caused tragedy in Brumadinho

Prosecutors mention employees from both firms in a recent accusation

Published in 22/01/2020 - 12:33 By Leo Rodrigues - Rio de Janeiro

Prosecutors in Minas Gerais state have reported there was collusion between mining giant Vale and German consultancy Tüv Süd. In the motion, presented Tuesday (Jan. 21) by the prosecutors, both companies are said to have been aware of the critical circumstances at the Brumadinho dam that collapsed, but to have refrained from sharing information with authorities or society and faced the risks. Sixteen employees were charged with manslaughter.

Next Saturday (25), one year will have elapsed since the tragedy took place. Since the incident, 259 bodies have been retrieved. Eleven people are still missing. Most of the victims worked for Vale or for outsourced companies active in the Córrego do Feijão mine. The structure that burst had its operational conditions guaranteed by audits by Tüv Süd, which signed the tailings dam’s stability certificate.

O presidente da Vale, Fábio Schvartsman, durante audiência pública da Comissão Externa da Câmara que acompanha as investigações sobre o rompimento da barragem em Brumadinho.
Former Vale CEO Fábio Schvartsman - Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil

Among the 16 individuals targeted are former Vale CEO Fábio Schvartsman and another 10 Vale employees. The other five occupied posts at Tüv Süd. They are accused of a number of environmental crimes and aggravated murder, as the victims were given no chance to fight for their lives. If they are convicted, sentences may vary from 12 to 30 years in jail for homicide alone. The two companies were also reported for environmental crimes and may face a number of sanctions.

The prosecutors state that then CEO Fábio Schvartsman took part in the crime by channeling corporate efforts to meet the targets of his administration: to be the world’s leading company for market value in the field. In order to do that, unacceptable risks were incurred and the move was decisive in the circumstances leading up to the breach.

“He confirmed he knew of the existence of dams in the attention zone. In a scenario with critical dam management, with several of them in a situation admittedly unacceptable according to the company itself, he failed to adopt the necessary measures. More than that, he made direct efforts to preserve the feeling of safety at Vale,” said Prosecutor Willian Garcia Pinto Coelho.

The motion includes corporate statements regarded as false. “The CEO would speak in public events, including events directed at shareholders and investors, where he declared the dams were in flawless security conditions—when he was aware it was not the case internally,” the prosecutor added.

Retaliation and reward

The crime did not occur on January 25, 2019. Rather, it is believed to have been initiated in November 2017, said the prosecutor, which noted a pressure method has been identified which was systematically used by the mining conglomerate against auditing firms.

“It was based on retaliation and reward. The companies that would not accept the collusion and expressed disagreement with the project’s corporate goals faced retaliation and were barred from the contracts. In the opposite direction, Tüv Süd gave in after being pressed by Vale. It deliberately chose to adopt a leading role in the risk management of that dam, a position not in line with the independence and autonomy that should be part of the auditing process,” the prosecutor pointed out.

The collusion, Coelho said, led to the issuance of unfounded stability certificates which served to keep the multinational mining firm’s risky activities concealed. The prosecutor also mentions “corporate dictatorship,” whereby Vale imposed its decisions on society, based on internal data not shared with government authorities or the population.

Over the course of the probes, an internal system was unveiled which the prosecutor dubbed “Vale’s black box.” It includes a top ten list with the dams “in unacceptable security conditions,” among them the facility that collapsed in Brumadinho. The list also included dams that saw their security emergency level raised after the tragedy and nearby communities evacuated. These are units listed on other documents as being in the “attention zone.”

The other side

In a note, Vale once again said it believes the causes of the incident will eventually come to light. “Vale expresses perplexity amid the accusations of fraud. One must remember that other agencies are investigating the case; it is still too early to talk about deliberate risk assumption aimed at causing a dam collapse,” the text reads.

Tüv Süd reported it has cooperated with the authorities, and reiterated its “commitment to seeing the facts about the dam burst clarified.”

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Fábio Massalli / Nira Foster

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