Mariana tragedy: UK court keeps Vale in lawsuit

The mining company will make its defense in the UK this week

Published on 27/11/2023 - 11:19 By Léo Rodrigues - Rio de Janeiro

By December 1, mining giant Vale must present its defense as part of a UK-filed lawsuit regarding the tragedy that occurred in the municipality of Mariana, Minas Gerais state, in November 2015.

On Friday (Nov. 24), a new decision was issued denying the company’s request for an appeal. Vale had been unsuccessfully questioning the jurisdiction of the UK courts over the litigation, whose merits will now be considered.

The dispute is a secondary case stemming from the lawsuit filed by thousands of affected people against the London-based Anglo-Australian mining company BHP Billiton. They are represented by the law firm Pogust Goodhead and are seeking compensation for moral as well as material damages. BHP Billiton and Vale are the shareholders of the Samarco mining company, responsible for the dam that burst and caused the tragedy. In the episode, 19 people died and dozens of towns along the Rio Doce basin were impacted.

The secondary case was lodged by BHP Billiton against Vale. The Anglo-Australian mining company now maintains that, in the event of a conviction, Vale should pay at least half of the amount set by the court.

Following the new ruling by the British court, BHP Billiton released a statement saying it continues to work in collaboration with Samarco and Vale to support the reparation process in Brazil. The Anglo-Australian corporation also refuted the claimants’ allegations and challenged the handling of the case in the UK. It claims that over 200 thousand individuals in the UK lawsuit have already received payments in Brazil.

Objections

Fundação Renova was created in 2016 under a Transaction and Conduct Adjustment Agreement signed between the three mining companies, Brazil’s federal government and the state governments of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo. It is in charge of more than 40 initiatives.

More than eight years on, the organization’s efforts are targeted by various legal claims from those affected, Minas Gerais state prosecutors, and federal prosecutors. The disputes range from the delay in completing the reconstruction work in the districts devastated by the tragedy to the value of the compensation. An attempt to renegotiate reparations, capable of finding a solution to more than 85 thousand lawsuits surrounding the tragedy, has been underway since last year.

Vale published a statement to the market reporting on the British court’s decision. The text points out that the merits of the lawsuit are yet to be examined. “Vale, as a Samarco shareholder, understands that the solutions created by the agreements in Brazil, especially the [Transaction and Conduct Adjustment Agreement], are suitable to address the claims of the foreign lawsuit,” the note reads.

In a published statement, Tom Goodhead, CEO of the law firm Pogust Goodhead, said the mining companies were unable to reach an agreement on the lawsuit. “Yet again we see the world’s two biggest mining companies squabbling in court rather than facing up to their responsibility as owners of the mine and dam that caused Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster. No amount of money will be enough, but hiring the most expensive lawyers in the world to fight each other in court is a huge kick in the teeth for all those who are continuing to suffer on a daily basis due to this crime.”

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Graça Adjuto

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