Rio in graft probe

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - MATT CHAM­BERS

INVESTIGATIONS into Rio Tinto’s pay­ments to a con­trac­tor in Guinea have taken a dra­matic step for­ward in Bri­tain.

The UK’s Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice has de­clared it sus­pects there has been cor­rup­tion in deal­ings by the miner, its em­ploy­ees and oth­ers as­so­ci­ated with it.

Rio said in Novem­ber it had no­ti­fied au­thor­i­ties in Bri­tain, the US and Aus­tralia about its con­cerns over a $ A13.2 mil­lion pay­ment the com­pany made to a con­sul­tant with close ties to Guinean Pres­i­dent Al­pha Conde while try­ing to main­tain min­ing rights there in 2011.

But at the com­pany’s London an­nual meet­ing in April, chair­man Jan du Plessis stressed Rio had not ad­mit­ted cor­rup­tion or bribery and that dis­missals of ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­bers Alan Davies and De­bra Valen­tine were be­cause of com­pany code of con­duct breaches.

In a state­ment on Mon­day, the Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice said it had “opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into sus­pected cor­rup­tion in the con­duct of busi­ness in the Repub­lic of Guinea by the Rio Tinto group, its em­ploy­ees and oth­ers as­so­ci­ated with it”.

It was the first com­ment on the mat­ter from the reg­u­la­tor and the first men­tion of sus­pected bribery or cor­rup­tion by au­thor­i­ties.

The de­vel­op­ment shows the Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice be­lieves the mat­ter re­ferred to it by Rio is se­ri­ous enough to mount a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “Rio Tinto will fully co- op­er­ate with the Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice and any other rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties, as it has done since it self- re­ported in Novem­ber 2016,” a Rio spokesman said.

In March, the Australian Fed­eral Po­lice launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­leged pay­ment by Rio.

The investigations come dur­ing a long- run­ning scan­dal sur­round­ing the iron- ore de­posits in the West African na­tion’s Si­man­dou range, con­sid­ered one of the min­ing world’s most cov­eted prizes.

In Novem­ber, Rio Tinto said it fired Mr Davies, who was head of Si­man­dou at the time, and Ms Valen­tine, who was le­gal and reg­u­la­tory af­fairs head, after a $ 13.2 mil­lion pay­ment re­lated to Si­man­dou came to light.

Mr Davies in Novem­ber said in a state­ment that there were “no grounds” for his ter­mi­na­tion and he had been given “no op­por­tu­nity to an­swer any al­le­ga­tions”.

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