RIO DE JANEIRO—Brazil’s Federal Police have accused seven people and three companies, including mining giant Vale SA and its joint-venture Samarco Mineração SA, of environmental crimes in response to a major dam collapse in November.
The move, which has no exact equivalent in the U.S. legal system, will trigger the beginning of a deeper investigation by police. It typically represents a step toward formal charges, which in Brazil can only be filed by prosecutors, often after police have presented their findings.
The accusations mark the latest response by Brazilian authorities to what some have called the country’s worst-ever environmental disaster. On Nov. 5, Samarco’s Fundão tailings dam suddenly collapsed, releasing a flood of sludge that buried rural villages, killed 19 people and polluted more than 400 miles of the Rio Doce basin.
In addition to the criminal case, Brazil’s attorney general announced in late November a roughly $5 billion civil lawsuit against Samarco, Vale and its joint-venture partner BHP Billiton Ltd., of Australia.
In a brief statement emailed to reporters this week, the Federal Police didn’t name any of the accused, referring only to their positions. They included Samarco’s chief executive, Ricardo Vescovi de Aragão, and its director of operations, identified on the company’s website as Kleber Luiz Mendonça Terra.
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