Rio Tinto CEO to leave over destruction of Indigenous sites

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Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques attends an annual general meeting in Perth, May 9, 2019. Jacques will leave the Anglo-Australian mining giant by March, 2021, over the destruction of the sacred sites, the company said on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (Will Russell/AAP Image via AP)

CANBERRA – Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques will leave the Anglo-Australian mining giant by March over the destruction of Australian Indigenous sacred sites to access iron ore, the company said on Friday.

“Significant stakeholders have expressed concerns about executive accountability for the failings identified,” Rio Tinto said in a statement.

By mutual agreement, Jacques will step down once a replacement has been appointed or on March 31, whichever happens sooner, the statement said.

Executives Chris Salisbury and Simone Niven will leave the company on Dec. 31.

Rio Tinto announced last month that Jacques would lose $3.5 million in bonuses and Salisbury and Niven around $700,000 each over the destruction in May of two rock shelters in Juukan George in Western Australia state that had been inhabited for 46,000 years.

Rio Tinto concluded in an internal review last month that there was “no single root cause or error that directly resulted in the destruction of the rock shelters.”

But internal documents revealed last week that Rio Tinto had engaged a law firm in case the traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, applied for a court injunction to save the rock shelters

The Western Australian government has promised to update Indigenous heritage laws that allowed Rio Tinto to legally destroy the sacred sites.