China sets spy trial date for Rio Tinto executives

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The Independent Online

Four Rio Tinto executives facing spying and bribery charges in China will go on trial in Shanghai on Monday with part of their hearing held in secret, the Australian government confirmed yesterday. The Anglo-Australian mining giant refused to comment yesterday beyond saying that it hoped "for a transparent and expeditious process for its employees".

The four, including Rio Tinto's Australian lead iron ore negotiator in China, Stern Hu, have arranged their own defence, with the mining giant refusing to say whether it has met its employees' legal costs.

Mr Hu and his Chinese colleagues, Liu Caikui, Ge Minqiang and Wang Yon were first detained last July, on suspicion of stealing Chinese state secrets. They were eventually charged with the lesser crime of receiving bribes and stealing commercial secrets.

Rio Tinto yesterday confirmed that sessions on receiving bribes would be held in open court, while the part of the trial relating to the theft of commercial secrets would be held in secret.

If convicted, the four face up to seven years in prison. Estimates vary, but as many as 90 per cent of all Chinese criminal cases end with a guilty verdict. The trial could only last a matter of days.

The case comes at a potentially awkward time for Rio. Its chief executive, Tom Albanese is due in Beijing for talks on economic development next week, while the company, along with the world's other major iron ore producers is currently in talks with Chinese steel mills over the annual iron ore price.

Mr Hu and his colleagues were arrested just a month after Rio spurned a $19.5bn (£12.7bn) investment from its biggest shareholder Aluminium Corp of China. The tensions have eased since, however, with the two firms revealing they were in talks about joint ventures in Mongolia and Guinea, West Africa, earlier this week.