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March 26, 2010

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Rio verdicts expected Monday

THE verdict in the trial of four Rio Tinto employees charged with bribery and stealing commercial secrets will be handed down next Monday.

Australian executive Stern Hu and three Chinese colleagues have all admitted taking kickbacks but have contested the amounts alleged by prosecutors. They face possible jail terms of at least five years on the bribery charges.

Hu, the head of the China iron ore business, subordinate Ge Minqiang and iron ore salesman Wang Yong have denied the commercial secrets charge. The fourth defendant, Liu Caiku, pleaded guilty, his lawyer, Tao Wuping, said.

"The Shanghai No. 1 Court has informed Australia's Consulate General in Shanghai that the verdicts in the trial of Mr Stern Hu will be delivered on Monday," Australia's Foreign Affairs Department said in a statement.

"Australian consular officials will be present at the court at this time. The Australian government will make a considered statement after the conclusion of these processes," it said.

Rio Tinto later said in a statement it had been advised verdicts would be delivered on Monday.

"We'll need to see the verdict first before we decide whether or not to appeal," Tao told Reuters.

The three-day trial ended on Wednesday.

Days before the trial began, Rio Tinto signed a US$2.9 billion deal with Chinese metals group Chinalco to develop an African iron ore mine.

Rio Tinto has conducted an independent internal audit to clear itself of any wrongdoing and determine whether there was evidence the company paid bribes to, or received illegal payments from, Chinese steel mills, Australian media said on Wednesday.

The case has forced Rio, the world No. 2 iron ore producer, to examine the way it conducts business in China.

In Sydney, Australia's top finance official said yesterday that the latest multibillion-dollar deal for China to buy Australian natural gas showed that economic ties between the two nations had not been derailed by the trial.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said "the economic relationship between Australia and China has been growing right through that period."


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