Rio Tinto blew up a sacred site in Australia. The CEO left but still got a huge payout

Rio Tinto’s former CEO got a huge payout last year despite being forced to resign over the company’s destruction of a sacred Indigenous site in Australia.

Jean-Sébastien Jacques received £13.3 million ($18.6 million) in pay and long-term incentive rewards in 2020, compared to £7.1 million ($9.9 million) the previous year, according to the company’s annual report, which was published on Monday.

Jacques was forced to depart under pressure from investors last September in the wake of the mining giant’s demolition of the Juukan Gorge caves in Western Australia. The company destroyed the 46,000-year-old Indigenous site last May to expand an iron ore mine.

The local custodians of the land, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, had been fighting for seven years to protect the caves.

Rio Tinto later apologized for the incident, with its chairman Simon Thompson admitting: “What happened at Juukan was wrong.”

The company also cut bonuses for Jacques and two other senior executives, worth a combined £3.8 million ($5 million). But it didn’t immediately fire any executives, which led to more criticism of the company’s response.

Jacques handed the reins over to Chief Financial Officer Jakob Stausholm on January 1. Chris Salisbury, head of the iron ore business, and Simone Niven, group executive for corporate relations, also left the company at the end of December.

Rio Tinto said in its annual report that in determining the final payout to all three departing executives, “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 willfully neglect their duties.”

It also added that it had to factor in “the loss of employment for the three individuals, against the considerable achievements of those executives over many years.”

“In this context, the loss of employment was considered the greater sanction,” the company wrote.