The head of Brazilian mining giant Vale has stepped down after a deadly dam bust in January that killed scores of people. Investigators say the company had prior knowledge that the structure was at risk of collapse.
Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman and three other senior executives resigned Saturday after federal prosecutors investigating a fatal mine bust requested their removal.
More than 180 people died when the tailings dam at Vale's Corrego do Feijao iron ore mine in southeastern Brazil ruptured on January 25. The breach released a torrent of toxic sludge that buried surrounding communities in the state of Minas Gerais. Some 122 people are still missing.
The Brazilian mining company said in a statement that its board had "immediately accepted" the resignations, which it described as temporary. Eduardo Bartolomeo, executive director of base metals, was appointed interim CEO.
Fabio Schvartsman is defending his leadership record, saying the way he acted was 'appropriate, correct'
Also resigning were ferrous minerals and coal chief Peter Poppinga, planning director Lucio Flavio Gallon Cavalli and geographic division head Silmar Magalhaes Silva.
Vale knew of risks: police
The executives' departure came a day after prosecutors and federal police recommended the company get rid of the CEO and 13 other senior officials on the grounds that the company allegedly knew there was an elevated risk of a breach in the leadup to the disaster.
Prosecutors also said Schvartsman and other company officials currently under investigation should be "prohibited from entering Vale facilities."
Vale said it remained "in readiness to seek a transparent and productive relationship with the Brazilian authorities in order to clarify the facts, to properly remediate the damages and to maintain the company's integrity."
In his resignation letter, published by the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Schvartsman defended his conduct: "I am absolutely convinced that the way I have acted personally, as well as the rest of our executive board ... has been absolutely appropriate, correct, and, mainly, loyal to our non-negotiable values of upholding operational security as a company," he wrote.
It is not the first time the company has come under fire. In 2015, the collapse of a separate Vale-linked tailings dam, also in Minas Gerais, killed 19 people and spilled millions of tons of waste into the environment.
Vale is the world's largest producer and exporter of iron ore.
nm/bw (EFE, Reuters, AFP)