MINING firm BHP Billiton pressured the Australian government to prevent rival Rio Tinto teaming up with Chinese company Chinalco, according to a diplomatic cable released to the Australian media at the weekend.
The country’s then-treasurer Wayne Swan told US diplomats last year that BHP had lobbied the government to delay any decision on the $19.5bn (£12.3bn) investment, according to the Wikileaks cable.
“BHP has been lobbying extensively to block the deal, highlighting concerns about Chinese investment and the possibility that seats on the Rio board would give the Chinese representatives important insights into the producer side of the annual iron ore price negotiations,” the cable reportedly said.
“Treasurer Wayne Swan’s chief of staff has told us on several occasions that BHP has played its cards with consummate skill, in part due to the increasing marginalization of BHP CEO Marius Kloppers as BHP chairman Don Argus has taken the lead in lobbying.”
State-owned Chinalco blamed Rio when its plan to buy around 18 per cent of the company collapsed last year, claiming that disagreements over board members and a bond issue thwarted its plans.
Swan said yesterday that the report might not be accurate, telling reporters: “Just because there is reportage of conversations and they are contained in cables, doesn’t necessarily mean those cables are accurate, well grounded or in context.
“Because it was a commercial matter it wasn’t a matter that ultimately came to government for decision,” he added.
In a separate cable, diplomats discussed claims that Rio Tinto privately gave the Chinese government information on former staff during a corruption investigation.
According to media reports on the cables, Rio found small amounts of cash on several employees that it could not vouch for, and passed this information on to China’s public security bureau.
The FTSE-listed company publicly backed its staff before their convictions last year, describing the allegations as “wholly without foundation”.
Several ex-Rio staff are still serving jail terms in China.
Neither company commented on the cables.