BHP's shares are tanking after police allege crimes over the Brazilian mine disaster

Protestor outside the Vale headquarters on November in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Image: Mario Tama/ Getty.

BHP Billiton shares are down 4% today after police accused three companies and eight mine employees of crimes connected to the fatal disaster in Brazil.

A short time ago, the shares were at $18.78, down 4.2%.

BHP’s Samarco mine, a 50/50 joint venture with Vale, is accused of wilful misconduct by skimming on safety spending and ignoring danger signs such as cracks in the tailings dam.

Vale is the second accused company. The third is not known.

Police want charges against eight company officials, including former Samarco CEO Ricardo Vescovi, for environmental crimes, says the Wall Street Journal.

The Federal Police task force investigation into the disaster say the companies involved were “more than negligent”

Prosecutors must now decide what charges are laid. But it’s clear what the police expect. Roger Lima de Moura, head of the task force, said: “Don’t call it an accident.”

Names of the accused employees haven’t been released.

The iron ore mine’s tailings dam collapsed in November, sending a wall of mud downstream, leaving 19 dead, a village crushed and a river polluted.

Analysts calculate the impact from the mud slide will strip about 4% from BHP’s profits.

Samarco, BHP and Vale have struck an agreement with authorities in Brazil on the cleanup, setting the costs around $US2.3 billion, or almost half previous claims, over the next six years.

On top of that, Brazil has launched a BRL 155 billion ($A58 billion) civil suit against BHP and Vale.

In its latest half year results, BHP recorded a pretax impairment of $US1.188 billion, or about $US858 million after tax, for its investment in the Samarco iron ore mine.

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