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London judges agree to reopen $7 bln Brazil dam lawsuit against BHP

Credit: REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

London's Court of Appeal agreed on Tuesday to reopen a major lawsuit against Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP, reviving a $7 billion claim over a 2015 dam rupture that triggered Brazil's worst environmental disaster.

By Kirstin Ridley

LONDON, July 27 (Reuters) - London's Court of Appeal agreed on Tuesday to reopen a major lawsuit against Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP BHP.AX, BHPB.L, reviving a $7 billion claim over a 2015 dam rupture that triggered Brazil's worst environmental disaster.

A group of 200,000 Brazilian claimants have been pushing to resurrect the 5 billion pound ($6.9 billion) English lawsuit against BHP since a lower court struck out the lawsuit case as an abuse of process last November and a Court of Appeal judge upheld that decision in March.

"Whilst we fully understand the considerations that led the judge to his conclusion that the claim should be struck out, we nevertheless believe that the appeal has a real prospect of success," three Appeal Court judges said in Tuesday's ruling.

The collapse of the Fundao dam, owned by the Samarco venture between BHP and Brazilian iron ore mining giant Vale VALE3.SA, killed 19 and obliterated villages as a torrent of more than 40 million cubic metres of mining waste swept into the Doce river, reaching the Atlantic Ocean, over 650 km (400 miles) away.

Hundreds of thousands of people suffered losses.

The group claim - one of the largest in English legal history - has been brought by law firm PGMBM on behalf of Brazilian individuals, businesses, churches, organisations, municipalities and indigenous people.

Tom Goodhead, a PGMBM managing partner, said it was a "monumental judgement" and that his clients felt this was the first time judges had recognised the importance of the case.

BHP, the world's largest mining company by market value, has labelled the case pointless and wasteful, alleging it duplicates proceedings in Brazil and the work of the Renova Foundation, an entity created by the company and its Brazilian partners to manage reparations and repairs.

"BHP’s position remains that the proceedings do not belong in the UK," it said in a statement. "Issues brought by the claimants are already covered by the work of the Renova Foundation, by existing decisions of the Brazilian Courts or are the subject of ongoing legal proceedings in Brazil."

(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Edmund Blair)

((kirstin.ridley@thomsonreuters.com; +44 (0) 207 513 5666;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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