Brazil Arrests 8 at Mining Giant Vale Over Deadly Dam Collapse

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The Brazilian police arrested eight employees, including two executive directors, of the giant mining company Vale on Friday as part of a criminal investigation into a dam rupture that killed more than 160 people.

The dam, filled with mining waste and sludge, burst three weeks ago, sending a tidal wave of mud crashing down on the company cafeteria at a mining complex in Brumadinho in southeastern Brazil. The torrent continued downhill, slamming into homes and contaminating rivers. At least 166 people were killed and 147 remain missing.

The eight people arrested were “directly involved in the safety and stability” of the dam that collapsed, according to public prosecutors. They will be held for up to 30 days as the investigation continues.

Police also carried out 14 search and seizure warrants at Vale offices and at the offices of four employees of the Brazilian subsidiary of TÜV Süd, a German industrial testing company, which inspected the Brumadinho dam twice last year, most recently in September.

Vale said in a statement on Friday that it was fully cooperating with the authorities, and that it would “continue to support the investigations in order to determine the facts,” as well as offering unconditional support to the families affected.

Telephone calls and emails to the Brazilian offices of TÜV Süd received no immediate reply.

Just days after the dam collapsed, prosecutors ordered the arrest of three Vale employees and two engineers for TÜV Süd. They were eventually released. According to Brazilian news reports, one of the engineers testified to investigators that he had felt pressured by Vale to certify the dam’s stability.

In Brazil, independent auditors verify the safety of dams through regular inspections and analysis of written records. But according to experts, the certification process is flawed because the mining companies select and pay the auditor — creating a possible conflict of interest — and provide all the documentation that inspectors base their analyses on.

In the weeks since the latest tragedy, a series of documents have emerged that show Vale shrugged off warning signs at the dam, built using the inherently risky “upstream” method, and successfully lobbied to fast-track an expansion plan at the mining complex.

When the dam broke, no alarms or sirens sounded to warn workers and communities downstream. Vale said the rupture had happened too quickly to trigger the alarm system.

Vale has since announced it is shutting down its 10 remaining upstream dams and suspending production at the mining compounds where they stand until the dams have been decommissioned.

Prosecutors said the arrests made and documents seized on Friday would contribute to the continuing investigation into criminal responsibility.

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