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Four Rio Tinto employees to face trial in ChinaAFP10 February 2010BEIJING (AFP) - – China has charged four employees of mining giant Rio Tinto including an Australian national with violating bribery and trade secret laws, the state news agency Xinhua reported Wednesday.The group of four, which includes Australian passport holder Stern Hu, allegedly “used their positions to obtain benefits for others and on many occasions solicited or accepted bribes,” the report said.The report said the employees of the Anglo-Australian firm had also “on many occasions obtained the trade secrets of Chinese steel companies, leading to serious consequences for the relevant steel companies”.The case has been passed to a Shanghai court for prosecution, it added. It was not immediately clear what sort of penalty the charges could incur.Calls by AFP to Shanghai’s First Intermediate People’s Court, which Xinhua said would handle the case, went unanswered.Hu and his three colleagues, all Chinese nationals, were detained last July and initially accused of stealing state secrets in a case that badly strained Beijing’s ties with Canberra. The accusations were later watered down.A spokeswoman with the Australian embassy in Beijing said she was aware of the report but referred requests for comment to the government in Canberra.In Australia, a Rio Tinto spokesman declined immediate comment as did a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith.The Australian national’s arrest raised questions about business deals with rapidly industrialising China, the world’s biggest iron ore consumer.It came just weeks after Rio Tinto snubbed a massive cash injection from a Chinese state firm, and coincided with annual iron ore contract talks. The tense negotiations later collapsed.The three Chinese nationals were identified as Wang Yong, Ge Minqiang, Liu Caikui.Zhang Peihong, a lawyer for Wang, said he had not been informed of the indictment and planned to contact the local Shanghai court handling the case on Thursday.Zhang also said he expected an initial hearing to be held sometime after the Chinese Lunar New Year Holiday. Government offices in China will be closed next week for the holiday.China is one of Australia’s most important trading partners and a key driver of its economy due to its huge demand for Australian raw materials.Rio Tinto has said it does not believe its employees have done anything wrong.A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman last month defended China’s handling of the case, saying it had been dealt with “according to relevant Chinese laws, legal processes and China-Australia consular agreements”.“I believe this case will result in a lawful and just outcome,” spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.
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