Cleary Gottlieb appointed to investigate BHP Billiton Brazil dam collapse

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton is running an external investigation on behalf of BHP Billiton, Samarco and Vale into the recent Brazilian dam disaster which killed 17 people.

In early November, two waters burst at the Samarco Mineração iron ore operation in Brazil, of which BHP Billiton and Vale each hold a 50 per cent interest.

US firm Cleary Gottlieb has been engaged by the companies to look into the cause of the breach of the Fundão tailings dam and the Santarém water dam, with partners set to look at geotechnical engineering and hydrology.

New York corporate partner Jeffrey Lewis and São Paulo colleague Francisco Cestero are working on the investigation, along with litigation partners Breon Peace, Lewis Liman and Jennifer Kennedy Park.

The findings of the report are set to be released publically once the external investigation is concluded and the results are expected to be shared with other resources companies.

As well as running an external investigation, BHP Billiton, Samarco and Vale have also been the subject of proceedings commenced by the Brazilian Federal Government. This month, a judge ordered the blocking of assets of BHP Billiton Brazil, Samarco and Vale and said the companies must present a plan of environmental recovery of the area.

There were 17 fatalities in the November dam incident, five of which were members of the community and 12 people who were working at the time of the breach. Two remain unaccounted for.

According to The Lawyer Market Intelligence (LMI), Cleary Gottlieb is on BHP Billiton’s legal roster having acted on several corporate and litigation matters in the past. The firm also advised the FTSE 100 Anglo-Australian company on its hostile $39bn for Potash Corporation in 2010.