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March 24, 2010

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Rio Tinto 4 appear in closed sessions

FOUR Rio Tinto employees faced a closed court in Shanghai yesterday on charges of stealing commercial secrets.

Australian executive Stern Hu and his Chinese coworkers - Liu Caikui, Ge Minqiang and Wang Yong - pleaded guilty on Monday to bribery charges in a partially open hearing attended by Australia's Consul-General in Shanghai Tom Connor.

That side of the case was wrapped up yesterday morning.

Hu made no comment in court yesterday, Connor said.

Connor said outside the court that the four were given an opportunity to respond to the allegations "and make any points they wished to in response to what the prosecution has been saying."

Lawyers for the Chinese accused declined to comment.

The case before Shanghai's No. 1 Intermediate People's Court is scheduled to wind up today.

"The company did not know about the bribes," Zhai Jian, who is representing Ge, told Reuters by phone.

"The defendants said in court that the company was not aware of what they did."

It is not clear when sentences will be handed down by presiding judges.

Court proceedings detailed in the National Business Daily yesterday linked at least some of the bribes to China's medium-sized steel mills.

Earlier Chinese reports suggested the Rio Tinto employees may have been caught up in an effort to control information exchanged during iron ore pricing talks, where Rio Tinto was acting as lead negotiator for the miners.

Hu is accused of taking bribes worth 1 million yuan (US$146,500) and US$790,000, Connor said.

In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday that the conduct of the Rio Tinto trial did not violate China's consular agreements with Australia.

"The pre-condition of China's consular agreements with Australia is the respect of China's sovereign rights of justice," Qin told a regular press conference in response to a question that Australian diplomats were excluded from yesterday's hearing.

Rio's iron ore division chief, Sam Walsh, said in Perth, Western Australia, yesterday that China remained a preferred partner in future projects.

Rio CEO Tom Albanese said in Beijing on Monday he did not want to jeopardize business ties with China.


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