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RIO DE JANEIRO--Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras and two of its executives are facing a lawsuit charging them with environmental crimes in connection with alleged refinery discharges of inadequately treated effluent into a river that runs into Rio de Janeiro’s famed Guanabara Bay.
Federal prosecutor Renato Machado filed the criminal lawsuit (Case No 0810735-07.2011.4.02.5101) Sept. 21 in the fourth regional federal court of São João de Meriti in southeastern Rio de Janeiro state. The town is close to where the Petrobras-owned Reduc refinery allegedly discharged polluted effluent into the Iguacú River.
In a Sept. 24 statement, Machado said that “Reduc acted with total irresponsibility. It knew, since 2007, that its waste treatment plants were obsolete and not functioning as they should, and yet it did nothing.”
As a result, Reduc allegedly discharged effluent containing oils, greases, phenols, phosphorus, ammoniacal nitrogen, and sedimentary solids in levels higher than permitted by law into the Iguacú river. The pollutants ran into Guanabara Bay, polluting it and its mangroves, a breeding ground for marine life, the statement added.
Antônio César de Aragão Paiva, Reduc’s effluent manager, and Carla Muniz Gamboa, Reduc’s environmental manager, were criminally charged in the lawsuit with “making omissions, whenever possible, and not taking actions to avoid environmental harm,” the statement said.
Petrobras refused to comment on the lawsuit, a company spokesman told BNA Sept. 25.
The Rio de Janeiro State Environmental Secretariat's enforcement arm (INEA) in 2011 fined Petrobras 3.3 million reais ($1.63 million) for polluting the Iguacú River with inadequately treated effluent from the Reduc refinery, an INEA spokesman told BNA Sept. 25.
The INEA fine caused the Federal Police, Brazil’s version of the FBI, to open an investigation into Reduc’s effluent treatment practices in 2011 and to send a report to the federal prosecutor’s office in São João de Meriti in August, Fabio Scliar, head of the Environmental Division of the Federal Police in Rio de Janeiro state, told BNA Sept. 25.
That report resulted in the criminal lawsuit. If convicted, Petrobras faces additional financial penalties of up to R$50 million ($24.7 million) under a 1998 federal environmental crimes law (No. 9605). The two Reduc officials named in the suit face prison sentences under the same law, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office in Rio de Janeiro state told BNA Sept. 25.
She added that if a federal judge agrees to hear the case and if the judge finds the defendants guilty, the length of their prison terms would depend on the type and number of environmental crimes for which they were convicted.
The Federal Police report also questions whether Petrobras is properly treating effluent discharged into the Atlantic Ocean. The federal prosecutor's office in Rio de Janeiro state has sent the report to the Attorney General's Office for further investigation (see related story). .
By Michael Kepp
The lawsuit is available, in Portuguese, at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=phey-8ygpf4.
The federal prosecutor’s office statement is available, in Portuguese, at http://www.prrj.mpf.gov.br/noticias/noticia_corpo.php?idNoticia=1159.
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