After dam break: Prosecutors in Brazil and Germany are investigating the TÜV Süd

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After dam break : Prosecutors in Brazil and Germany investigate against TÜV Süd

burst a year ago in Brazil a dam, the toxic mudslide probably killed 270 people. The traces of the accident reach as far as Germany.

By Caspar Dohmen, Christoph Gurk, Klaus Ott and Nicolas Richter

The Munich I public prosecutor, who is known for major economic proceedings, is currently working into one new, very fundamental case. He will soon lead the Bavarian investigators across the Atlantic to Brazil. A small delegation of prosecutors and police officers is due to investigate in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais in the spring, why on 25. January 2019 a dam of an iron ore mine near the small town of Brumadinho burst – and what role TÜV Süd played in it. After the dam broke, a huge, toxic mudslide rolled over people, animals and houses. In the end 259 people were dead, eleven others are still missing. It was one of the largest industrial accidents in the history of Brazil – and its traces reach as far as Germany.

The Munich I public prosecutor is leaving According to a criminal complaint filed in October 2019, the suspicion that TÜV Süd, which is based in the Bavarian capital, was heavily guilty: its Brazilian branch had the dam 2018 certified as safe. A German engineer from the Technical Surveillance Association – who has long been a global corporation – is now being investigated in Munich for several alleged crimes, including negligent homicide and bribery. At the same time, an administrative offense procedure is running against a compliance manager from TÜV Süd, which could cost the group a lot of money.

The law enforcement officers in Munich take the suspicion that TÜV Süd failed to inspect the dam very seriously. A request for legal assistance to Brazil is planned, an on-the-spot investigation is to follow. The seriousness of the situation is shown by the fact that the Brazilian public prosecutor's office, Minas Gerais, has recently completed its investigation and filed charges against managers and engineers of the mining group Vale and TÜV Süd for possible homicide and environmental crimes.

The more than 460 -side indictment Brazil assigns TÜV Süd a major responsibility for the disaster. TÜV Süd was not just an observer, but an actor. The prosecutors use a comparison from the film world: TÜV Süd did not act as a photographer, but as a director of a “terror and suspense film”. Because of the prospect of good business with the mining group Vale, the TÜV Süd neglected its due diligence. The Brazilian branch of TÜV Süd had 2018 commissioned by Vale to issue several reports that the dam, which was part of the Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine, was safe. In the course of the year 2018, according to the Brazilian public prosecutor, a “criminal relationship” between Vale and TÜV Süd should have arisen, characterized by “pressure, agreements, rewards and Conflicts of Interest “.

The prosecution wrote in their indictment that the Vale Group, which is one of the largest mining companies worldwide, had said external experts generally operated a system of “whip and carrot”. Anyone who opposed the pressure to certify dams as an appraiser was excluded from future orders. On the other hand, anyone who has bowed to this pressure and certified the systems has been rewarded with new orders.

The mine dam Córrego do Feijão has long been considered ailing

This constellation was particularly critical at the dam of the Córrego do Feijão mine , because at the time of the accident this was considered ailing for a long time. Already at the end 2017, according to the indictment, a panel of experts came to the conclusion that the dam was at risk. A local TÜV Süd employee is said to have taken part in this meeting. This employee certified the dam several times a year 2018 as safe. The prosecutor accuses this engineer of manipulating a technical value, feigning security and misleading the authorities.

At that time, TÜV Süd employees described the pressure in internal emails and chats under which they felt they were delivering the desired result to the mining group. The engineer who ultimately signed the certifications once asked: “As always, Vale will throw us against the wall and ask: If he (the dam, editor's note) does not pass, will you sign it or not? “

According to the indictment, this pressure should be particularly strong in May 2018 have been. At that time, the next scheduled date for the certification of the dilapidated dam by TÜV Süd was imminent. Shortly before, Vale had promised TÜV Süd a new major order for internal consulting services. The volume of this order was significantly higher than that for routine certification, it was 15 million reais in relation to three million Reais; the rate from reais to euro is about 5 to 1. After TÜV Süd had then removed the dam, it apparently also received the major order. According to the Brazilian public prosecutor's office, TÜV Süd thus appeared in several roles simultaneously – as an external, independent expert and at the same time as an internal consultant for the Vale group.

This would be a clear conflict of interest, which the local employees of TÜV Süd should also have recognized. According to the public prosecutor, the employees wanted to put the difficult decision about how to deal with Vale and the defective dam in the hands of a German supervisor: that of a Munich-based TÜV Süd engineer who came from Germany from time to time to take care of the Brazilian branch. According to the prosecutor in Brazil, the German should have known that the dam was unsafe and that there was a conflict of interest. In the environment of TÜV Süd, on the other hand, it is said that the man was only concerned with the economic, not with technical questions. The engineer is always ready to testify before Brazilian investigators. Probably in Munich, because there is probably an arrest warrant against him in Brazil.