Rio Tinto has agreed to pay a civil penalty of US$15 million to settle a lengthy US investigation into payments made to a Guinean political adviser. 

The payments were intended to secure access to the Simandou iron ore province, and were made to Francois de Combret, a former classmate of former Guinean president Alpha Conde. 

The SEC found that Rio had failed to properly document its engagement with Mr de Combret, and that he had attempted to make an improper payment to a Guinean government official in connection with his efforts to help Rio retain its mining rights. 

The regulator also found that Rio had violated accounting and record-keeping standards, and had failed to have sufficient internal accounting controls in place to detect or prevent misconduct. 

Two senior executives, including the executive in charge of its Guinean activities at the time, were terminated in 2016. 

Rio did not admit nor deny the SEC’s findings, but agreed to pay the civil penalty to end the matter. 

The settlement comes as Rio prepares to finally develop the Guinean iron ore leases in the Simandou mountains.