Brazil judge approves Samarco dam burst settlement with government

Thu May 5, 2016 10:33pm EDT
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By Stephen Eisenhammer and Marta Nogueira

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A Brazilian judge on Thursday ratified the settlement Samarco and its owners, BHP Billiton (BLT.L: Quote) and Vale SA (VALE5.SA: Quote), signed with Brazil's government in March to cover damages for a deadly dam spill last year, Vale said in a statement.

The move potentially saps some of the energy from a separate $44 billion lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors on Tuesday who criticized the settlement as insufficient.

The agreement will see Samarco, BHP and Vale pay a government-estimated 20 billion reais ($5.6 billion) over 15 years to cover and repair damages. Vale, however, has outlined it expects to pay less than that due to the way the deal is structured, calculating future payments depending on how much work remains to be done.

"It's a very important step because you remove any uncertainty about the agreement's validity," said Marilene Ramos, President of Brazil's federal environment agency Ibama which formed part of the settlement.

"The programs outlined in the agreement can now be implemented by the companies," Ramos added, referring to the environmental reparation plan which includes work on sewage, landfill, reforestation and water treatment.

The settlement has been strongly criticized by federal prosecutors who called it little more than a "letter of intent" in their lawsuit. "It is absolutely insufficient," said Jorge Munhós de Souza, one of the prosecutors working on the case.

Samarco Chief Executive Roberto Carvalho told Reuters the settlement and the lawsuit filed by prosecutors covers the same ground.

"The agreement ratified today already carries all the socio-economic and environmental reparations which this other lawsuit proposes," Carvalho said.   Continued...

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