Rio Tinto has agreed to pay $US28 million ($42.7 million) to end an American regulatory probe into its Mozambique coal debacle, in a settlement that closes a dark chapter in the miner’s history.

The $US28 million settlement was reached on November 17 with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, which had accused Rio of fraudulently concealing problems with its Mozambique coal investment and delaying the announcement of impairments against the asset.

The SEC filed the charges in late 2017, accusing former Rio executives Tom Albanese and Guy Elliott of being too slow to impair the assets acquired through the $US3.7 billion takeover of Riversdale Mining in 2011.

The settlement means no fraud charges will be recorded against Rio nor its former executives, with the SEC’s case being pruned of its most serious charges in 2019.


But in addition to paying $US28 million and the years of reputational damage caused by the trial, Rio will be forced to hire an independent consultant to check whether the company’s modern approach to impairments and disclosure is adequate.

Mr Albanese – who was Rio’s chief executive between May 2007 and January 2013 – also struck a settlement with the SEC on the same day, agreeing to pay $US50,000 to end the probe.

Once Mr Albanese and Rio’s respective settlements are ratified by the court, the only outstanding matters will be two minor claims against Mr Elliott, who served as Rio’s chief financial officer under Mr Albanese.

Mr Elliott’s lawyers have asked the New York court to swiftly dismiss those remaining matters in light of the SEC’s settlements with Rio and Mr Albanese.

Rio believed the $US3.7 billion acquisition of Riversdale in 2011 would give it a large new coking coal province that could be connected to global markets via a shipping channel down the Zambezi River.

But Rio’s due diligence on Riversdale was woefully inadequate; the volume of coal available for export was crimped by the Mozambique government’s opposition to barging down the Zambezi River.

Rio also discovered the Riversdale tenements contained far less high-quality coking coal than originally thought, and much greater than expected volumes of low-value thermal coal.

Rio did not announce any substantial impairments on the Mozambique assets until January 2013, when flaws in the project triggered the sacking of Mr Albanese.

The United Kingdom Financial Conduct Authority believed Rio should have reported the Mozambique impairments six months earlier in August 2012. The FCA fined Rio £27.38 million ($50 million) in October 2017 over the matter.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission also pursued Rio over the time it took to report the Mozambique impairments. The ASIC charges were dropped in February 2022 when Rio agreed to a settlement that included a confession the company had contravened its continuous disclosure obligations for a 27-day period between December 21, 2012 and January 17, 2013.

The fine detail of Mr Albanese’s settlement appears to prevent him from criticising the SEC’s long-running case, which was launched with an initial statement of claim that read like the script for a Hollywood blockbuster.

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