* Government says Vale owes about $15.2 billion in back taxes
* Judgment in case to be made in first half of 2013
* Case relates to foreign profit earned by Vale and other companies
BRASILIA, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Brazil’s Supreme Court will rule in the first half of this year on whether iron ore miner Vale SA must pay an estimated $15.2 billion in taxes on earnings from its operations abroad, the president of the court said on Thursday.
Vale and other companies represented by national industrial association, the CNI, are disputing back charges the government is seeking which they say would be tantamount to double taxation.
Other companies affected include state-controlled oil producer Petrobras and privately held engineering company Odebrecht.
Vale has avoided having to make any payment so far because of a court injunction, which says it would only have to pay the taxes if it lost the case. Vale says having to pay the taxes would disrupt its investment plans.
“This case, that is already being judged, will conclude this semester,” Joaquim Barbosa, president of Brazil’s highest court, told a gathering of foreign correspondents.
He said the case was not specifically related to Vale but applied to it and other companies with earnings from foreign operations.
Barbosa said the case had been with the Supreme Court for about six years and some judges who had already voted on it had since left the court, making it more difficult to achieve a “coherent” judgment. Most of those judges, whose vote remains valid after their departure, voted that the taxes on foreign earnings should be paid.
Vale’s chief executive, Murilo Ferreira, told investors on a conference call on Thursday that the government was discussing proposed legislation to determine future taxation rules for Brazilian companies with foreign operations.
“We’re expecting a resolution in the coming weeks or months,” Ferreira said of the court case.
Vale posted its first loss in a decade on Wednesday, taking $5.66 billion in writedowns on money-losing mines.
Ferreira said in Thursday’s conference call that higher iron ore prices and a rise in Vale’s gold output would bolster profits in forthcoming quarters.