Bid to expand Rio Tinto Mozambique coal fraud lawsuit blocked by US court

A US judge on Wednesday quashed a bid to widen the scope of a civil lawsuit by the US Securities and Exchange Commission that accused miner Rio Tinto of fraud at its Mozambican coal business, said Reuters citing a court filing.

The SEC filed a complaint against Rio Tinto in 2017 with allegations that it had fraudulently concealed the decline in value of the business.

Rio had acquired Riversdale mining for $3.7bn in 2011, on the premise it would be able to barge 30 million tons of coal per year down the Zambezi river, and rail a further 12 to 15 million tons of coal per year to port.

But it failed to secure government approvals, and discovered the resource was lower than expected, still raising more than $5bn in 2012 before impairing the assets as coal prices fell the following year, when CEO Tom Albanese departed.

Defendants Rio Tinto Ltd, Rio Tinto Plc, Albanese, and former CFO, Guy Elliott, had argued that the studies were not complete at the time the capital was raised, said Reuters.

In a 2019 ruling, US District Judge Analisa Torres in New York said the regulator may pursue some claims in its October 2017 lawsuit but narrowed the main fraud claim against Rio Tinto and Albanese to focus on the former CEO’s statements about Mozambique growth prospects.

The SEC argued that some of the dismissed claims should be restored, in light of a subsequent US Supreme Court decision in an unrelated case, but that bid was knocked back on Wednesday.

The surviving SEC case includes a claim that Albanese intended to mislead investors in 2012 by describing the Moatize Basin, where RTCM was located, as a world-class basin coal deposit and long-term growth opportunity.