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February 11, 2010

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Rio employees must stand trial

CHINA will put four detained employees of mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd on trial on charges of stealing commercial secrets and taking bribes, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

The four Rio employees are the head of its Shanghai office, Australian citizen Stern Hu, and Chinese Liu Caikui, Ge Minqiang and Wang Yong.

They were detained last July during iron ore price talks with China's steel industry group.

Xinhua said the case against the four was accepted for trial by the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate Court but gave no hearing date.

The court said prosecutors accused the four of "taking advantage of their position to seek profit for others, and asking for, or illegally accepting, huge amounts of money from Chinese steel enterprises."

It said they lured the Chinese enterprise executives by illegal means many times in a bid to obtain steel companies' commercial secrets, causing "extremely serious consequence" for the firms.

The case placed a cloud over already tense iron ore price talks between China and Rio and Australian miner BHP Billiton.

China is Australia's biggest trading partner, with US$53 billion worth of business turned over last year.

Australia exported US$15 billion worth of iron ore to China in 2008.

The big iron ore miners are asking Chinese mills for a 40 percent increase in prices this year as demand surges beyond last year's record of 628 million tons, according to Australian press reports.

The China Iron and Steel Association, however, said at the end of last year that foreign miners were expected to seek a 20-30 percent increase in benchmark prices for 2010, and made it clear that such an increase was unacceptable.

Rio appointed Ian Bauert, its former managing director of sales and marketing, to be its first president in China on February 5.

Bauert can speak fluent Chinese and Rio said it hoped to enhance its long-term cooperation with China.


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