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Brazil seeks to re-open $27 billion lawsuit against BHP, Vale

FILE PHOTO: The debris of the municipal school of Bento Rodrigues district, which was covered with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, is pictured in Mariana, Brazil, November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian federal and state prosecutors have asked a court to re-open a multi-billion-dollar civil action lawsuit against miners Samarco, Vale SA and BHP for damages caused by the Fundao dam burst in 2015, authorities said on Thursday.

The incident at Samarco’s Mariana facilities, a joint venture between Vale and BHP, which left 19 dead and polluted the River Doce, was Brazil’s biggest ever environmental disaster. The claim is for damages of 155 billion reais ($27.4 billion).

The suit had been suspended in 2018 after an agreement between prosecutors and the companies. But in the Thursday statement, state prosecutors in Minas Gerais, where Mariana is located, alleged that the companies were not meeting their obligations in a timely fashion.

In a joint statement, Vale, Samarco and BHP said they were surprised by prosecutors’ decision to attempt to re-open the suit, and said they vehemently disagreed with the assertion that they were not complying with their obligations promptly. They said the existing agreement allowed for full reparations for all parties affected by the dam break.

Another mining dam owned by Vale burst in Minas Gerais in 2019, an incident which killed 270 people and sparked a series of criminal and civil suits.

Earlier on Thursday, Vale said that 33 of its 104 dam structures in Brazil had failed their stability assessments.

Reporting by Luciano Costa; Writing and additional reporting by Gram Slattery in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Franklin Paul, Andrea Ricci and Leslie Adler

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