SAO PAULO — Federal police have concluded their probe into an oil spill off the Brazilian coast last month and are recommending that prosecutors charge oil companies Chevron and Transocean with crimes against the environment, a top official said Thursday.
Authorities also asked that charges be filed against 17 people for failing to provide information to the police, said Fabio Scliar, head of the Federal Police department's environmental affairs division.
Among them is George Buck, chief operating officer for Chevron Corp.'s Brazilian division. If indicted and convicted, he and the others could face jail terms of up to 14 years each, Scliar said.
Oil started leaking at the site of a Chevron appraisal well Nov. 7, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) off the northeastern coast of Rio de Janeiro state. Transocean Ltd. is the drilling contractor for the well.
"I am convinced that Chevron's policy regarding the drilling of wells in Brazil is a reckless one, and should the companies be found guilty, they could be permanently banned from operating in Brazil," Scliar said.
Chevron said the indictments sought were without merit.
"We will vigorously defend the company and its employees," the company said in an emailed statement. "Chevron is confident that once all the facts are fully examined, they will demonstrate that Chevron responded appropriately and responsibly to the incident."
No one answered the telephone at the office of Transocean's Brazilian office Thursday.
Brazil's Environment Ministry fined Chevron $28 million, 50 million reals ($27 million) but has said the company could face further penalties.
Last week a federal prosecutor filed an $11 billion lawsuit against Chevron Corp.
Chevron has said the spill occurred because the company underestimated the pressure in an underwater reservoir.
Most of Brazil's oil drilling is conducted offshore, and that is where Chevron's work is concentrated. The company does own lubricant-manufacturing plants in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It wasn't clear if these operations would be affected by any decision a judge makes on the federal prosecutor's lawsuit.