Rio Tinto says will vigorously defend itself against SEC charges

Former Rio Tinto CEO Tom Albanese, ex-CFO Guy Elliott charged with fraud by SEC

SEC.gov | Rio Tinto, Former Top Executives Charged With Fraud

Separately, the U.K's Financial Conduct Authority or FCA said it has fined Rio Tinto plc 27.39 million pounds for breaching Disclosure and Transparency Rules.

This is the largest penalty of its kind imposed by the City watchdog and reflects the seriousness of the breach by Rio, which failed to promptly disclose to investors the fall in value of the mining operations it bought in Mozambique for $3.7 billion in August 2011 and which it later sold for $50 million.

The SEC's complaint alleges that the project suffered setbacks nearly immediately, as Rio Tinto, Albanese, and Elliott learned that there was less coal and of lower quality than expected, and that Mozambique had rejected its barge application. The company knew by the end of 2011 that it could sell only about 5% of the coal that it had originally assumed, the SEC alleged.

By making misleading claims the Anglo-Australian miner - one of the world's largest - was able to raise $5.5bn from U.S. investors, the SEC said. Mr. Albanese said he is innocent of any wrongdoing and that the SEC's claims "will be proved baseless".

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The SEC charges that having already booked major writedowns following a takeover of Alcan, Albanese and Elliott knew that disclosing a second failure would "call into question their ability to pursue the core of Rio Tinto's business model to identify and develop long-term, low-priced and highly profitable mining assets", according to the statement.

As a result of the charges, Mr Elliott stood down from his role as a non-executive director at oil group Royal Dutch Shell.

Rio Tinto said it meant to "vigorously defend itself" against the "unwarranted" United States charges and said that the action in the UK by the FCA had made "no findings of fraud, or of any systemic or widespread failure" by the company.

The SEC allegations are contained in court documents that also request a jury trial. Instead, as the project began to suffer one setback after another resulting in the rapid decline of the value of the coal assets, they sought to hide or delay disclosure of the nature and extent of the adverse developments from Rio Tinto's Board of Directors, Audit Committee, independent auditors, and investors.

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"The Mozambique acquisition was expected to restore the market's confidence in Albanese's deal-making acumen, but on-the-ground realities in Mozambique quickly undermined that narrative", the SEC said. The quality of the coking coal was also questioned. The size of the fine was calculated in reference to the company's market capitalisation.

The SEC said the fraud continued until January 2013, when another executive discovered accounting irregularities. After an internal review allegedly triggered by the executive's report to Rio Tinto's Chairman, Rio Tinto announced that Albanese had resigned and the company reduced the value of the coal assets by more than $3 billion, or more than 80 percent. It also wants Albanese and Elliott banned from serving as public company officers or directors.

Albanese joined Indian resources conglomerate Vedanta Resources as chief executive in 2014 but left the firm in August.

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