Rio Tinto execs step down after blast destroyed ancient Australian caves

Rio Tinto said its CEO and two other top executives would step down over the mining giant’s destruction a pair of ancient caves in Australia.

Chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques will leave by March 31 of next year in response to the May blast at Juukan Gorge, a historic site that humans had occupied for 46,000 years, the company announced Friday.

Rio Tinto said Jacques was exiting “by mutual agreement.” Chris Salisbury, chief executive of the firm’s iron ore business, and Simone Niven, group executive of corporate relations, will also leave at the end of December, the company said.

Company chairman Simon Thompson noted that there were concerns about “a lack of individual accountability” for the explosion, which was approved by government officials but violated the wishes of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, the land’s traditional indigenous owners.

“What happened at Juukan was wrong and we are determined to ensure that the destruction of a heritage site of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again at a Rio Tinto operation,” Thompson said in a statement, adding that the company is “determined to regain the trust” of the traditional owners.

Friday’s announcement came after Rio Tinto’s move last month to cut Jacques, Salisbury and Niven’s bonuses by a total of roughly $3.7 million this year following a company review of the detonation.

Juukan Gorge in Western AustraliaPKKP Aboriginal Corporation/AFP

The cave blast gave Rio Tinto access to $135 million worth of iron ore but sparked outrage over the destruction of a historically and culturally significant site. The company also took a hit to its reputation for dealing with indigenous people around the world.

Rio Tinto’s Australian-listed shares dropped about 0.6 percent Friday to 99.86 Australian dollars ($72.72).

With Post wires

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