The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed fraud charges against Rio Tinto and its ex-CFO Guy Robert Elliot and former CEO Thomas Albanese. The defendants are accused of hiding the Mozambique coal business’s swift and steep drop in value soon after they acquired it for $3.7B. The mining company later would go on to sell Rio Tinto Coal Mozambique for $50M—a much lower figure than the buying price.
The SEC contends that following the acquisition of the coal assets in 2011, the project experienced problems right away because there was “less coal and of lower quality” than what Rio Tinto, Elliot, and Albanese had anticipated. Also, the country of Mozambique, which is where the acquisition occurred, had turned down the barge application. This means that there was no infrastructure to transport the assets. All of this “significantly eroded” the acquistion’s value.
Rio Tinto and the two ex-executives purportedly knew that publicly disclosing the acquisition as a failure, after a previous acquisition of Canadian company Alcan had rendered big losses, would create doubts over their ability to identify and develop mining assets that were “long-term, low cost, and highly profitable.” This purportedly compelled them to hide the problems that arose with the Mozambique acquisition and issue misleading financial statements prior to a number of US debt offerings.