Aboriginal group says Rio reshuffle broke promise - The Australian

MELBOURNE, Feb 4 (Reuters) - An Australian Indigenous group whose sacred rockshelters were destroyed by Rio Tinto says a leadership reshuffle at the global miner broke a personal promise by Rio’s chairman for consistency in their core relationship, The Australian newspaper reported.

Rio said last week that its acting head of iron ore, Ivan Vella, would move to Canada to head up its aluminium business, while Chief Commercial Officer Simon Trott would take charge at its iron ore business.

The move breached a personal commitment by Rio chairman Simon Thompson at a Nov. 24 meeting that Vella would lead reconciliation with the group, The Australian said, citing a letter from acting Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) Aboriginal Corp Chief Executive Grant Wilson.

In the letter to Rio, Wilson said the group had explicitly asked Thompson to clarify who would be responsible for mending the relationship, following the destruction last year of the 46,000 year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters, the paper said.

The destruction of the caves, while legal, sparked public and investor uproar that ultimately led to the resignation of then CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two deputies.

“Mr Thompson was unequivocal in his response; Ivan Vella was nominated as having full board imprimatur for repairing the relationship from a Rio Tinto perspective. This responsibility was to have lasted from that meeting through to the conclusion of the repair,” the letter said.

The PKKP said it only found out about the recent leadership changes through the media, and that Thompson had not made any formal contact to explain the changes and their impact on the reconciliation process, the paper said.

The group said the broken promise risked shattering fragile trust built up in the months since the blast, the paper reported.

The PKKP did not immediately return a request for comment.

Asked for comment on the report, Rio Tinto said rebuilding trust with the PKKP remained a “priority”, and that it was appropriate the relationship be led by the head of iron ore.

“We are encouraged by the progress on the planning for the remediation of the Juukan Gorge area but readily acknowledge we have a lot more work ahead of us,” it said in a statement.

Reporting by Melanie Burton; editing by Richard Pullin