Global employees at Rio Tinto (ASX, LON:RIO), the world’s second largest mining company, remain deeply distraught by a recently launched probe into the lawfulness of a payment made to an external consultant working on the firm’s Simandou iron ore project in Guinea.
The investigation, which caused the suspension of Rio’s energy and minerals chief Alan Davies, not only may take several years to resolve, but has left many across the company absolutely “shell-shocked,” Rio Tinto chief executive officer Jean-Sébastien Jacques said in an internal memo quoted by Bloomberg.
“Some of us may be feeling that we are better informed by the press than by ourselves,” he said in the internal communication. “Speculation is running in some quarters and some of what is being said strikes at the heart of the culture and values of our company, which for me are fundamentally strong and vitally important.”
Together with alerting US and UK authorities, Rio Tinto said last week that it was not until very recently that it became aware of emails from 2011 about the contentious payments, totalling $10.5 million, that Rio made for advisory services on its former project.
Rio’s legal and regulatory affairs executive, Debra Valentine, who was due to retire next May, has already stepped down in light of the probe, the company said last week.
Alan Davies was in charge of the iron ore project in 2011, when the payments were made and also the same year that Rio signed a major agreement with the Government of Guinea, which secured the firm’s mining title.
The company announced in October it was fully exiting the project by selling its stake to partner Chinalco for up to $1.3 billion, with payments to begin with commercial production.
Davies, a 20-year veteran at Rio and member of the executive committee, was only promoted to the top role in the energy and minerals division in June this year, after a shake-up of the firm’s operations.
He is also a member of Rio Tinto’s ethics committee.