October 3, 2018 / 2:25 AM / 2 months ago

Vale, BHP reach final deal with prosecutors over Brazil disaster

FILE PHOTO - An Australian (2nd L) and a Brazilian (2nd R) flags are pictured on the entrance of the mine operator Samarco owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd in Mariana, Brazil, November 11, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

SAO PAULO/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian prosecutors in Minas Gerais state said on Tuesday they reached a final compensation deal with mining companies Samarco, Vale (VALE3.SA) and BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) regarding a 2015 dam burst, Brazil’s largest ever environmental disaster.

According to a statement from prosecutors released late on Tuesday, the deal allows for compensation payments to start to relatives of the 19 people killed in the disaster, as well as to people who lost their houses and other properties.

No financial details of the deal were disclosed in the short statement on Tuesday, but the chief prosecutor in the city of Mariana will hold a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the agreement.

Brazil’s worst environmental catastrophe happened when a dam designed to hold back mine waste from the Samarco iron pellets operation in Mariana burst, leaving a trail of destruction for hundreds of kilometers in Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo states.

Another deal had been reached by the mining companies and prosecutors in regions hit by the disaster away from Mariana, where victims found that offer insufficient. With this last settlement, companies might be able to prepare to resume operations in the region more than two years after the accident.

Vale has said it expects the Samarco unit to resume operations in 2018 or early next year, but has pushed back forecasts several times.

The mine still needs permits to reopen, and the lack of a clear timeline makes it harder for the controlling companies to renegotiate the debt Samarco will carry from the disaster.

Reporting by Marta Nogueira and Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Richard Pullin

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