By Luciana Magalhaes and Samantha Pearson
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- Vale SA's top managers received an
anonymous email warning about the safety of the miner's dams two
weeks before a deadly disaster, a note that prompted the chief
executive to pursue the writer's identity and call the person a
"cancer," a police document shows.
Authorities say they are focusing on then-CEO Fabio
Schvartsman's response as they investigate whether a culture of
retaliation at the company contributed to the Jan. 25. mine-dam
collapse in Brumadinho that killed 270 people, the world's
deadliest mining disaster of its kind in more than 50 years.
The Jan. 9 email, which was sent to Mr. Schvartsman, current
Chief Executive Eduardo Bartolomeo, Chief Financial Officer Luciano
Siani Pires and other executives, said the company's mine-waste
dams were "at their limit," according to a 15-page summary of Mr.
Schvartsman's recent interrogation by police and prosecutors seen
by The Wall Street Journal.
A Vale spokesman said the email was generic and lacked evidence,
vehemently denying a culture of retaliation at the company. Vale's
executive directors never had any knowledge about a critical or
imminent risk at the dam before it collapsed, he said.
Mr. Schvartsman's attorney said his client always followed up on
complaints as Vale's CEO when they included concrete information,
saying the email lacked specific facts. Messrs. Bartolomeo and
Pires couldn't be reached for comment.
The anonymous email, titled "The Truth," partially reproduced in
the police document, doesn't mention the mine-dam structure that
collapsed in Brumadinho about two weeks later, according to the
summary. "We are facing great challenges ahead, our operations are
lacking the minimum level of adequate investment, we are lacking
personnel in the operational, maintenance and engineering areas and
they are poorly remunerated...equipment is breaking, the dams are
at their limit," the person wrote.
The following Sunday after receiving the email, Mr. Schvartsman,
who stepped down in March, emailed three colleagues ordering them
to find out who wrote the email. He wanted to "look at [the email's
author] eye to eye," he told investigators. Mr. Schvartsman didn't
seek a probe into problems cited in the email. He told authorities
he and his colleagues never identified the email's author.
Questioned by authorities about his response, Mr. Schvartsman
said he believed the anonymous email to be from an employee who was
disgruntled over the chief executive's policies aimed at ending a
corporate culture he said was divided into fiefs. Mr. Schvartsman's
attorney said two other directors at Vale also said the email
contained inconsistencies and believed the sender acted in bad
In news conferences after the tragedy, Mr. Schvartsman said that
technical issues related to the dams were the responsibility of
lower-level employees and that all information he received showed
them to be safe.
But investigators in the case said they suspect that Vale's top
management deliberately shielded themselves from incriminating
information to avoid liability, practicing tactics of retaliation
and intimidation in an industry the company dominated.
The Journal reported in February that employees of TÜV SÜD, the
dam's safety inspector, knew for months of dangerous conditions at
the dam but certified it as safe anyway, worried about losing
business with Vale. Another consultant told the Journal he believed
that Vale didn't renew his contract with the miner after he pointed
out structural problems at another of the company's dams.
In May the Journal reported that mine workers in Brumadinho
alerted their bosses to problems at the dam in the months before,
but were ignored. Other workers said they were too afraid to raise
their concerns for fear of losing their job with Vale, one of the
town's biggest employers. A spokesman for Vale said the company
provides many efficient ways for employees and service providers to
file anonymous complaints.
Brazil's federal police said in a 215-page report that studies
conducted by Vale's own consultants in the 12 months preceding the
disaster showed the structure was fragile and would eventually
collapse, the Journal reported in October.
Prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against employees of
Vale in the case, which could include high-level executives,
authorities told the Journal. Police announced charges against
seven lower-level individuals from Vale and six employees from TÜV
SÜD for covering up structural dangers at the dam during last
year's safety audits. TÜV SÜD has said it was cooperating with
Investigating authorities said they believed Vale was concerned
that any problems at its dams could spook shareholders following
the collapse of another dam it jointly owned in 2015 that killed 19
people. Safety and preventive measures taken at the site were
inadequate, they said.
While Vale installed a siren to alert workers and the nearby
community in case of a rupture, it didn't go off when the structure
collapsed at 12.28pm on Jan. 25. A tsunami of mud obliterated the
mine's packed lunchroom, as well as nearby homes and a
In his testimony to police, Mr. Schvartsman said he was told the
siren didn't sound because the person responsible for setting it
off was in the lunchroom at the time of the collapse, according to
the police document. The person managed to run from the mud and
survived, authorities said.
Investigators also asked Mr. Schvartsman if he believed it was
safe to have the lunchroom located below the dam, in an area that
the company's own studies had shown would be hit if the dam
collapsed. "[Mr. Schvartsman] answered that he was not able to give
a "black or white" answer as he did not have technical knowledge of
the issue," police wrote in the document.
Write to Luciana Magalhaes at Luciana.Magalhaes@wsj.com and
Samantha Pearson at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 04, 2019 18:03 ET (23:03 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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