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Stepping in: Freshfields corporate partner Richards moves to Rio Tinto legal team

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer corporate partner Philip Richards has been seconded to head up Rio Tinto’s legal team following the axing of legal and regulatory affairs group executive Debra Valentine (pictured).

Valentine’s contract was terminated by Rio Tinto in November after she had previously notified the company of her intention to retire in May 2017. The mining firm has been caught up in a scandal which also saw the mining company axe senior executive Alan Davies. An investigation found a $10.5m payment was paid to a consultant related to an African iron ore project in Guinea.

Rio Tinto confirmed Richards has been fulfilling the role of chief legal counsel since December after chief financial officer Chris Lynch had temporarily taken accountability for the corporate legal and regulatory affairs function in November. At that time Rio Tinto confirmed the recruitment process for a new chief legal counsel had commenced.

London-based Richards focuses on mergers and acquisitions, governance and other corporate advisory and transactional work for a wide range of financial sector clients, in particular with banking insurance/reinsurance, and financial infrastructure clients, as well as for private equity investors. He has previously established and led Freshfields’ financial institutions group and co-headed the firm’s Italian offices while based in Milan.

Richards has advised the London Stock Exchange group on its acquisition of a majority interest in LCH Clearnet, of the remainder of the shares in FTSE and on its proposed merger with the Toronto Stock Exchange. He has also advised Swiss Re on its acquisition of the UK business of Metlife and Evercore Partners on its acquisition of The Lexicon Partnership for about £86m.

Rio Tinto has not been a major client of Freshfields. The Magic Circle firm advised Canadian aluminium company Alcan on EU competition work during its acquisition by Rio Tinto for $34bn.

Magic Circle rival Linklaters has been a longstanding adviser to Rio Tinto acting for the mining company on its $40bn acquisition of Alcan, its takeover approach from Australian rival BHP Billiton for $147bn and its $15.2bn rights issue.