Brazil judge dismisses $5.7 billion civil suit against Samarco: Vale

A view of the Samarco mine, owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd, in Mariana, Brazil, April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Washington Alves

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian iron ore miner Vale SA said on Monday that a 20 billion reais ($5.7 billion) civil lawsuit seeking environmental and property damages for last year’s deadly Samarco mine disaster has been dismissed.

The mine is operated by Samarco Mineração SA, a joint venture between Vale and the world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton Ltd. Vale said the judge did not rule on the merits of the case.

A tailings dam burst at the mine in November and unleashed 60 million cubic meters of mud and mine waste that devastated a village, killed at least 13 people and polluted a major river valley.

The National Humanitarian Society (Sohumana) filed the lawsuit before a federal judge in Rio de Janeiro in December.

Brazil’s federal and state governments also threatened to sue Samarco and its owners for 20 billion reais in compensation for the disaster and a settlement was reached in March to cover the damages.

Under the agreement, Samarco, BHP and Vale will pay the 20 billion reais over 15 years to cover and repair damages. Vale, however, has outlined it expects to pay less than that due to the way the deal is structured, calculating future payments depending on how much work remains to be done.

The settlement was approved by a Brazilian judge in May, which potentially reduced the threat of a separate $44 billion lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors in the states of Minas Gerais, where the mine is located, and neighboring Espírito Santo, who based their claim on the clean-up costs of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Chris Reese and Cynthia Osterman