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BHP Billiton seeks early dismissal of Samarco spill-related homicide charges

BHP Billiton Group lodged a petition of habeas corpus with the Federal Court of Appeals in Brazil, seeking early dismissal of homicide charges against the company's former and current employees in connection with the Samarco iron ore mine spill, The Australian Financial Review reported April 2.

The 2015 tailings dam burst in the country's Minas Gerais state killed 19 people.

The miner, which owns the Samarco Mineração SA joint venture with Vale SA, intends to aggressively defend its three former executives and five current employees.

Brazilian prosecutors charged a total of 21 Samarco Mineração employees for qualified homicide in October 2016.

The petition, which was filed in the name of one of the three Brazilian employees, demands judicial reflection on the evidence that justified the criminal charges laid on the miner's employees.

If the petition is successful, it is likely to conclude the prosecution of the other seven executives of BHP Billiton, as well as potentially serve to get the charges dismissed against all the employees who were indicted for homicide.

The miner's legal team intends to represent its view that the indictments lack the facts required to justify a murder charge and nothing that has been presented could prove any level of intent to cause loss of life.

The miner filed the petition right after a Brazilian federal court suspended the 155 billion reais lawsuit against the companies and their joint venture over the spill.

The court also dismissed all the other lawsuits as part of a broader ruling federal judge Mário de Paula Franco Júnior approved to reach a final agreement on damages.

As of March 31, US$1 was equivalent to 3.17 Brazilian reais.