Brazil judge blocks Vale executives removal before the miner's defense

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A Brazilian federal judge has denied an injunction request filed last week by prosecutors against Vale SA, which asked for the urgent removal of top executives in charge of safety and to suspend dividend payments, according to a court filing on Wednesday.

The judge based in Minas Gerais state said it would be inappropriate to decide on the injunction request before the Brazilian mining company had a chance to defend itself.

Vale has yet to present its defense after the legal notification of the injunction request, which was filed to Sept. 2, according to the prosecution office. A final decision on the injunction is pending.

Federal prosecutors in Minas Gerais state have accused Vale top executives of disregarding safety procedures following two deadly mining disasters. The case is the latest in a series of accusations against the company, with multiple legal steps.

Prosecutors have asked a judge to name someone from outside the company to take charge of Vale’s safety program. The prosecutors claim an outsider is needed to change what they say is an internal culture that favors “profit over lives.”

The company still oversees security threats to its dams even after 270 people died following a dam break in Brumadinho city in January 2019, the prosecution office says.

The prosecutors have also asked all dividend payments be suspended until an independent source confirms Vale is cooperating. Vale plans to resume payouts next month, which Fitch estimates will come in at more than $2 billion for the year.

“The decision was positive for our requests as it recognizes the jurisdiction of our claim,” federal prosecutor Edilson Vitorelli said by phone. “A final decision on the case could take years, we can’t wait that long.”

Reporting by Sabrina Valle; Editing by Chris Reese, Marguerita Choy and Aurora Ellis