MELBOURNE, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- Mining giant BHP Billiton said it "rejects outright" the murder charges laid against eight company executives over a dam collapse last year that killed 19 people.
Five Australian executives at BHP were among 21 people charged by Brazilian police for their role in the November 2015 dam collapse.
Brazilian police charged 26 people, 21 of whom with murder, over the disaster which sent a wall of water through a valley in the Minas Geraid region and left hundreds of people homeless.
"BHP Billiton rejects outright these charges," the company said in a statement on Friday from its global headquarters in Melbourne. "Our priority is to fully defend the unfounded criminal charges against all of our people."
Authorities alleged that employees of BHP and Brazilian mining company Vale SA, who operated the mine under their joint venture company Samarco, prioritized profits over the safety of local people.
The eight BHP staff charged, five of whom remain at the company, were BHP's five representatives on Samarco's board.
The incident, which has been described as the largest environmental disaster in Brazil's history, occurred when two dams at the Samarco mine containing by-products of iron mining collapsed in November 2015, contaminating nearby waterways and suspending the water supply to much of Brazil's southeast.
Jose Adericido Leite Sampaio, the prosecutor in the case, told reporters that Samarco executives had clear awareness the dam could fail.
"Security was always of secondary importance. The increase in production at Samarco sought to compensate for the falling value of the ore in order not only to maintain but also to boost profits and dividends," Sampaio said on Friday.
"It should have taken steps to promote the safety of the dam."
If found guilty, the 21 current and former staff of BHP and Vale accused of murder could face up to 54 years' imprisonment.
Maria do Carmo Dangelo, a farmer 45 miles from the dam whose property was hit by "a wall of mud", said she still had not received any compensation from the two mining giants for her losses.
"I lost my land and my parents lost everything. My family has lost its income, which came from producing milk. I haven't received any compensation," Dangelo said in comments published by the Guardian on Friday.