Rio Tinto case trial opens in Shanghai

14:15, March 22, 2010      

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Four employees of Australian mining giant Rio Tinto stood trial in Shanghai Monday on charges of stealing commercial secrets and engaging in bribery, sources revealed.

Stern Hu, who was once Rio's top China representative, and three Chinese employees working for the miner, faces prosecutors in the Shanghai No 1 Intermediate People's Court. It is reported that the maximum sentence for stealing commercial secrets would extend to 6 years, if the theft of secret information led to massive economic losses.

Meanwhile, joining a high-profile forum on China's future development in Beijing, Rio's chief executive Tom Albanese told reporters that his company remained committed to working with China, Australia's largest trade partner last year.

"This issue is obviously of great concern to us," Albanese said. "I can only say we respectfully await the outcome of the Chinese legal process," he told the Beijing symposium.

Albanese said "we remain committed to strengthening our relationship with China, not just because you are our biggest customer, but because we see long-term business advantages for both of us."

The four employees from Rio's iron ore team were detained last summer. Sources have revealed that the four Rio employees had been seeking information about Chinese mines and steel mills, in order to gain an up-hand in ore price negotiations then.

It is reported that Australian consular officials was not allowed to be present to observe the first part of the trial concerning concerning commercial secrets. The diplomats could be present at the second part concerning bribery, sources said.

A Chinese researcher in a think-tank run by the Ministry of Commerce said there was a strong case against the Rio employees and warned relevant interests to keep a distance, The Reuters reported Monday.

"The Australian government and public need to calmly and rationally consider this question: should the government waste such a large amount of political and financial resources to pay the bill for certain companies' immature and even illegal ways?" the researcher, Mei Xinyu, wrote in the Shanghai Securities News Monday.

"What Rio Tinto and Stern Hu did would be utterly taboo in any host country," Mei said.

Mindful of the international attention paid to the Rio case, the government has stuck strictly to its own legal deadlines for moving the case from police to the court system, The Reuters reported.

By People's Daily Online

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