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BHP under fire as head of reparations over 2015 Brazilian dam disaster indicted on fraud charges

Published by , Digital Editorial Assistant
Global Mining Review,

The Director-President of the foundation set up by Anglo-Australian mining corporation BHP to compensate victims of one of Brazil’s worst ever environmental disasters has been indicted on fraud charges.

Roberto Waack has been charged by the Brazilian Federal Public Prosecutor's Office for his involvement in the fraudulent extraction and trading of wood in the Amazon.

Waack’s company Amata stands accused of falsifying documents to circumvent the inspection and export of Amazonian timber. Waack has been personally indicted for his involvement in the illegal scheme, with public prosecutors seeking damages of up to R$57 million (£12 million), for which Amata and Waack himself will be liable.

The illegal timber trade causes significant damage to the delicate rainforest ecosystem throughout Brazil each year.

Waack is chair of the Renova Foundation, the arms-length body funded by BHP to lead the environmental rebuilding of the devastated areas in the States of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo in Brazil, following the collapse of the mining corporation’s Fundão dam in 2015.

The Fundão dam near Belo Horizonte in eastern Brazil collapsed on 5 November 2015, causing a mudslide that killed 19 people, destroyed the nearby villages of Bento Rodrigues, Paracatu de Baixo and Gesteira and devastated the Rio Doce river basin, the second-largest river system in Brazil. The failure of the dam, which held 55 million m3 of iron ore tailings, an industrial by-product of the company’s mining operations, caused one of the worst environmental disasters in Brazilian history.

In addition to rebuilding the region’s devastated ecosystem, Waack and the Renova Foundation are also tasked with administering compensation and reparations payments to hundreds of thousands of individuals, whose livelihoods and communities were destroyed in the disaster.

Waack has yet to be dismissed from his position at the Renova Foundation, following his indictment. The Renova Foundation has yet to comment.

A £5 billon group action lawsuit, brought on behalf of 235 000 Brazilian individuals and organisations including municipal governments, utility companies, indigenous tribes and the Catholic Church, was served on BHP on 7 May 2019.

The lawsuit – the largest in UK legal history – makes clear how BHP knew of the risks surrounding the deteriorating condition of the dam in the years prior to its deadly collapse in 2015 yet were woefully negligent in its duty to prevent the catastrophe. The claim is being brought by SPG Law, on behalf of the 235 000 - strong group: the ‘Victims of Fundão’.

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