The United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has opened a formal investigation into the alleged bribing scandal relating to Rio Tinto’s formerly-owned Simandou iron ore deposit in the African nation of Guinea in 2011.
A short statement from the SFO on July 24 said the office had opened an investigation into “suspected corruption in the conduct of business in the Republic of Guinea by the Rio Tinto group, its employees and others associated with it”.
The news comes four months after the Australian Federal Police opened an investigation into the alleged issue, and nine months after Rio told the market it had reached out to relevant authorities in its listed jurisdictions, as a result of leaked emails from 2011.
The emails, leaked in late 2016, revealed an alleged US$10.5 million payment to former senior Lazard banker François Polge de Combret in 2011.
According to multiple sources, de Combret was assisting Rio in negotiations with Guinean president Alpha Condé, his former classmate at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.
Rio was bidding for the rights to mine the massive Simandou iron ore deposit.
The emails allegedly include discussions relating to the payment between Sam Walsh – then Rio’s head of iron ore, and later the firm’s chief executive – along with then chief executive Tom Albanese and then energy and minerals executive Alan Davies.
Davies was sacked over the scandal in November last year, along with the mining giant’s legal affairs executive Debra Valentine. Davies released a statement denying any legal activity, and slamming Rio for having “no grounds” to terminate his employment.