Rio elects new chairman

Rio Tinto has appointed British American Tobacco (BAT) chief Jan du Plessis as its new chairman.

Rio Tinto has appointed British American Tobacco (BAT) chief Jan du Plessis as its new chairman.

Du Plessis will replace outgoing Rio Tinto boss Paul Skinner when he retires after the group’s April 20 annual general meeting.

The announcement comes in the middle of what has been a hectic few months for the miner, with speculation growing that the Foreign Investment Review Board and the Federal Government will not pass the $30 billion Chinalco deal.

Treasurer Wayne Swan, who has the ability to block overseas investment, has come under attack from politicians with Nationals Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce launching an advertising campaign called Keep Australia Australian.

Rio told the market it can meet its debt obligations for the “forseeable future” from cash flow and undrawn borrowing facilities, even if the deal with Chinalco does not proceed.

In its annual report published yesterday the miner said there was a risk that cash flow alone would not be enough to repay debt, but it had committed facilities of $US8.1 billion ($12 billion) available.

Before it struck the agreement last month Rio was sure its balance sheet was strong enough to weather the financial crisis.

Most analysts agreed it would be able to meet a $US8.9 billion debt repayment in October, but there was more doubt about its ability to repay another $US10 billion the following October, which placed pressure on its share price.

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