Monday 22 February 2021 7:45 am

Golden goodbye: Rio Tinto bosses farewell 2020 with chunky payouts

Three Rio Tinto executives forced to leave the FTSE miner last year after the destruction of sacred rock shelters in Western Australia all ended 2020 with substantial payouts, Rio’s annual report this morning shows..

Chief Executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques, who departed his role at the end of 2020, received total remuneration of £13.3m under Australian accounting rules, up from £7.1m a year earlier.

Despite the loss of about £2.7m in awards following a board review into the blast, the sum, which includes the value of share awards that have not yet vested, was boosted by Rio Tinto’s strong share price.

Jacques and two other executives were effectively pushed out of the FTSE mining giant after a backlash against a board review that originally imposed only financial penalties for the destruction of the sacred sites.

‘Nothing unlawful’

Rio Tinto’s remuneration committee, led by non-executive director Sam Laidlaw, granted “eligible” leaver status to the three executives, meaning they avoided stiffer financial penalties for the incident.

“In making the eligible leaver determination the Board fully recognized the gravity of the destruction at Juukan Gorge but was mindful that the three executives did not deliberately cause the events to happen, they did not do anything unlawful, nor did they engage in fraudulent or dishonest behavior or wilfully neglect their duties,” it said in the annual report.

Rio’s iron ore head, Chris Salisbury, who stepped down in September, received total remuneration of £3.7m including termination benefits and unvested share awards, from £1.6m in 2019. Salisbury lost a £620,000 short-term incentive.

Head of Corporate Affairs Simone Niven lost out on £525,000 in short-term incentives but received £5.1m, including £1.1m in termination benefits and unvested share awards.

Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson said: “Our strong performance during 2020 was overshadowed by the destruction of the ancient rock shelters in the Juukan Gorge and I reiterate our unreserved apology to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people.

He added: “We fell far short of our values as a company and breached the trust placed in us. It is our responsibility to ensure that the destruction of a site of such exceptional cultural significance never happens again.”