Brazilian police accused top Vale SA executives of having ignored the dam risks at the company's Feijao iron ore mine to avoid liability, The Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 18, citing a 215-page police report that has not been made public.
"The top bosses of Vale ... closed their eyes to studies commissioned by the company itself, preferring to remain ignorant so that, in a moment like this, they could allege ignorance as their defense," the police wrote in their report.
However, the police did not provide evidence to support the claim, and no official charges have been filed against the top executives, although prosecutors are exploring the possibility of filing criminal charges on the basis of a legal doctrine known as "willful blindness," people familiar with the probe told the newspaper.
Such legal doctrines from abroad are often hard to apply under Brazil's criminal law, which does not recognize such concepts, according to the report, which cited São Paulo-based lawyer Pierre Moreau.
Former Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman, through his attorney, denied having any knowledge of the dam's structural problems and told The Wall Street Journal that the miner had increased spending on dam safety under his leadership.
The company said its senior executives had no knowledge of any critical or imminent risk related to the stability of the dam, while the report noted that mining experts have questioned why management did not try to learn more about the company's higher-risk dams, especially in light of a similar incident three years earlier at the Samarco iron ore mine in Brazil that killed 19 people.
The police report concluded that Vale was aware of serious issues at the dam during the time leading up to its collapse, citing a June 2018 incident where muddy water started gushing out of the dam's base.
State and federal prosecutors are preparing their own charges, which may include murder or manslaughter, authorities told the publication.
In September, police called for criminal charges against Vale, the dam auditor and 13 employees related to the disaster that killed hundreds of people in January.