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Brazil alleges environmental crimes in investigation into Fundao dam collapse

[JURIST] Brazil's Federal Police have accused seven people and three companies of environmental crimes in its probe into the major Fundão dam collapse that occurred on November 5. The collapse, which has been termed the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history, released a flood of sludge burying rural villages, killing 19 people, and polluting more than 400 miles of the Rio Doce basin. Among the accused [WSJ report] are mining giant Vale SA, its joint-venture Samarco Mineração SA [corporate websites], Samarco's chief executive Ricardo Vescovi de Aragão and its director of operations Kleber Luiz Mendonça Terra. Vogbr Recursos Hídricos e Geotecnica Ltda. [corporate website in Portuguese], an engineering consultancy firm that provided a report in mid-2015 declaring the Fundão dam to be stable, and the engineer responsible for that report were also cited. Brazil's attorney general had already announced his intention to file a USD $5 billion civil lawsuit against Samarco, Vale and another other joint-venture partner BHP Billiton Ltd. [corporate website] of Australia in November, although BHP has denied responsibility for the collapse stating that Samarco was solely responsible. The present allegations represent a step toward formal criminal charges marking the beginning of a deeper investigation by police.

Brazil has been the subject of several corruption scandals in both politics and business in recent years. In October Brazil's Federal Accounts Court determined [JURIST report] that President Dilma Rousseff's government accounting practices were illegal. In September a Brazilian court sentenced [JURIST report] former treasurer of the country's governing Worker's Party Joao Vaccari Neto to 15 years and four months in jail for charges stemming from his connection to the Petrobras corruption scandal. In November Brazil's highest court ordered [Reuters report] the arrest of André Esteves, the then chief executive of the country's largest investment bank, and that of Delcídio do Amaral, a powerful senator of the country's ruling party. Both individuals were accused of obstructing the course [JURIST report] of the investigation [BBC News report] into bribery and corruption affiliated with Petrobras [official website], a state-run oil company. That eventually renewed the vigor to implicate President Dilma Rousseff [BBC backgrounder] in the Petrobras scandal and begin impeachment proceedings [JURIST report] against her.

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