Brazil Probe into Possible Safety Cover-up by Vale Could Lead to Massive Fine

By Mario Sergio Lima | March 1, 2019

Brazil’s mining authorities have started a probe into Vale SA over a possible coverup regarding safety procedures that could lead to a fine of up to 20 percent of their 2018 gross revenue.

The country’s mining secretary, Alexandre Vidigal de Oliveira, said in an interview that he requested an investigation into whether the company colluded with auditors to mislead authorities over the risk assessment of the mining rejects dam that collapsed near Brumadinho in the state of Minas Gerais. If convicted under Brazil’s anti-corruption law, the maximum penalty could be around 25 billion reais ($6.6 billion) based on estimates of preliminary 2018 data. By contrast, the mining code sets a 3,000 reais limit for fines.

Vale’s net revenue was 127 billion reais in the 12 months through September 2018. The Rio de Janeiro-based company declined to comment when asked about the probe and possible fine.

“The law is clear in punishing companies if they are found to have colluded to prevent proper government monitoring,” Oliveira said in an interview. “I’ve requested the start of the probe and now the mining agency has 180 days to present some conclusions”.

Vale plummeted as much as 5.4 percent on the probe and potential fine. The news wasn’t expected and it should keep the stock under pressure in the short-term, according to Leonardo Rufino, a portfolio manager at Pacifico Gestao de Recursos.

Over 300 people are believed to have died after the dam collapsed on Jan. 25 near the city of Brumadinho. While 186 casualties have so far been confirmed, 122 people are still missing. After the accident, the company lost its investment grade rating from Moody’s and could face penalties and fines over their role in the tragedy.

This week, Brazil’s Senate also passed a law that increases penalties in accidents with mining dams, that would establish a ceiling of 10 billion reais. The bill still has to be approved by the lower house.

Bloomberg Intelligence Comments

“Our math shows Vale will be on the hook for about $7.2 billion should Brazil’s government fine the company 20% of annual revenue (projected at $36.5 billion for 2018). We believe the stock was already discounting a figure twice the size — $6-$7 billion in fines and $5 billion for missed dividend payments.”– Andrew Cosgrove, senior industry analyst [at Bloomberg Intelligence].

According to Oliveira, in the aftermath of the tragedy, the government has increased from 14 to 32 the number of auditors responsible for monitoring mining dams and set a deadline of 2021 for banning upstream mines. It is also looking into how to change the current self-policing system, in which companies contract independent auditors to judge whether or not their dams are safe with data provided by the miners.

“It is a system that was designed to fail,” said Oliveira, who said he has focused almost entirely on the Brumadinho disaster in his little more than one month in the job. “We are studying the best way to change the system, Brazil need to stop being a country of improvisation.”


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