Brazil police may accuse Samarco execs of homicide in dam burst: Folha

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian police have enough evidence to accuse executives of miner Samarco Mineração SA with homicide over a deadly dam burst in November, a police chief told newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo on Friday.

Police earlier raided the offices of Samarco, a joint venture of Vale SA and BHP Billiton, in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state, and in Mariana, where the iron pellets venture is located.

“We have all the autopsy reports. ... The crime of homicide occurred, we will decide if it was voluntary or involuntary,” police chief Rodrigo Bustamente said, according to Folha.

Bustamente could not be reached immediately for comment.

Samarco did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the possibility of homicide charges. Earlier, in a statement in which Samarco reported the raid on its offices, the company said in it had collaborated with police since investigations began into the cause of the tragedy that left at least 17 dead and 800 homeless.

Mud surging from the dam devastated an entire neighborhood in Mariana and contaminated a river that supplies fresh water to a large area in Minas Gerais and the neighboring state of Esprit Santo. The tragedy is considered Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster.

State civil police could not be reached for comment on the potential homicide accusations. Only prosecutors can formally present criminal charges in Brazil.

The report of the police raid of the Samarco offices occurred a day after Minas Gerais state said the dam burst caused losses to municipalities estimated at 1.2 billion reais ($303 million), not considering environmental problems. The federal government is seeking up to 20 billion reais in indemnities.

Reporting by Roberto Samora; Additional reporing by Marta Nogueira and Roberto Samora; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Leslie Adler