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Fears for foreign business executives as CEO is jailed in China

An Australian businessman detained in southern China was sentenced yesterday to 13 years in jail for embezzlement and bribery.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Matthew Ng planned to appeal against the sentence, which was handed down by the Guangzhou Intermediate Court.

Ng is CEO of Et-China, a travel services company reportedly embroiled in a dispute with a local Chinese partner.

"We have made clear to Chinese authorities our strong interest in Mr Ng's case," a statement from the Australian government said. It added that the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, had raised Ng's case with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in April and that other Australian officials discussed it several times with their Chinese counterparts.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the chairman of Ng's company, Zheng Hong, was sentenced to 16 years in jail and Et-China's chief financial officer, Kitty Yang, was given three-and-a-half years, both on related embezzlement and corporate charges.

The case follows the conviction last year in Shanghai of four employees of the mining giant Rio Tinto, and increases fears over the vulnerability of employees of foreign companies in China to the often selective enforcement of its vague state secrets and corruption laws.