Mining giant Rio Tinto has appointed former Anglo-American Plc executive Simon Thompson as its new chairman to succeed incumbent Jan du Plessis.

Mr Thompson, who has been a non-executive director on Rio’s board since 2014, will take over as chairman in March 2018.

He has more than 20 years experience in the mining and metals industry, which has included several senior positions at global miner Anglo-American, and board positions at AngloGold Ashanti, Rusal and Newmont Mining Corp.

Mr Thompson was chairman of Tullow Oil plc from 2012 to 2017, and has been chairman of 3i Group plc since 2015.

The appointment comes more than six months after outgoing chairman Jan du Plessis announced his intention to leave in March, to become chairman of UK telco giant BT Group.

By the time he stands down next March, he will have spent more than nine years as Rio’s chairman.

“I am handing over the baton at a time when the business is in great shape and Rio Tinto has the strongest balance sheet in the sector,” Mr du Plessis said in a statement on Monday.

The South African-born corporate veteran has steered the company through a turbulent period that has involved repairing its balance sheet, as well as a boom and bust cycle in the commodities sector over the past few years.

Rio has continued to face turbulence at the top, after the US market regulator charged the company and two top former executives with fraud in October, for allegedly inflating the value of an African coal business that cost the company a $2.9 billion writedown.

The company is also caught up in a payments scandal in West Africa, and last year dismissed two top executives over their role in a $US10.5 million ($A13.8 million) payment in 2011 to a consultant over the Simandou iron ore project in Guinea.

Meanwhile, on assuming his new role, Mr Thompson will step down as head of Rio Tinto’s remuneration committee and as a member of the audit committee.