Fresh shake-up at Rio Tinto in aftermath of bribery probe

Rio Tinto current CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques steps down in March. (Image: Rio Tinto via Flickr)

Mining giant Rio Tinto (LON, ASX:RIO) has once again reshuffled its top management team, replacing a senior executive and adding a new member as the company deals with a probe into a questionable payment made to an external consultant over the Simandou iron ore project in Guinea.

Chief executive officer Jean-Sébastien Jacques, who took the helm less than six months ago, has appointed Vera Kirikova as head of human resources. She is replacing Hugo Bague, who among his duties is responsible for Rio’s email and information technology systems.

Rio Tinto — who is also facing a US investigation into a $3bn write-down on a mine in Mozambique — is reinforcing its communications department.

Bague, who will leave the company in March next year, has been facing questions since last month, when a French website unveiled emails exchanged by three of Rio Tinto’s former executives about the controversial $10.5m payment to an adviser in Guinea.

The news triggered an internal probe and the involvement of US and UK authorities as well as the World Bank’s private investment arm, and prompted Rio Tinto to fire energy and minerals chief Alan Davies and the head of legal and regulatory affairs Debra Valentine.

While the miner did not disclose what information prompted the suspension and the sacking of Davies and Valentine, people familiar with the matter told Financial Times that Rio Tinto has known about the 2011 emails referring to the dubious payment for over a year, and not just since August, as the firm claimed when the emails first leaked to the press.

Not surprisingly, Rio Tinto — who is also facing a US investigation into a $3bn write-down on a mine in Mozambique — has decided to reinforce its communications department. As part of the latest reshuffle, the miner said it has appointed Simone Niven, head of corporate affairs, to its executive committee.

This is not the first reorganization orchestrated by Jacques, who replaced Sam Walsh in July. Ten days before officially assuming as the new CEO of the company, he announced the departure of the iron ore division boss, Andrew Harding, once tipped as the most likely person to take the company’s reins.

He also said at the time that it was combining Rio’s copper and diamonds divisions into a single group, while coal, uranium salt, borates and other units would become part of a new business, branded as “energy and minerals.”