Verdict in the Rio Tinto case will come Monday
A Chinese court will hand down its decision in the bribery and commercial secrets case against four Rio Tinto employees on Monday.
The Australian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday: “The Shanghai Number 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, 29 March.”
Hu, a naturalized Australian, and three colleagues from the Shanghai office of the mining giant Rio Tinto pleaded guilty this week to accepting bribes from Chinese steel mills to ensure their iron ore supplies, but they contested the amounts of the kickbacks they were charged with taking. Three of the four, including Hu, denied charges of industrial espionage.
The case has soured the climate for international business in China and the swiftness of the trial, which lasted only three days, and the timely verdict, seem to indicate the Chinese authorities want to get it over with as quickly as possible.
The Australian statement said its consular officials would be in court to hear the verdict and added: “The Australian government will make a considered statement after the conclusion of these processes.”
The Australian consul in Shanghai was allowed to attend the part of the trial that dealt with the bribery charges, but was barred from the court when the evidence and arguments on the commercial espionage charges were heard. Foreign media were banned from the whole trial.
A panel of three judges heard the case and it will decide whether defendants Hu and his colleagues, Chinese nationals Liu Caikui, Wang Yong and Ge Minqiang are guilty or innocent.
The four face up to five years in jail on the bribery charges and seven years on the commercial secrets charge.
Hu, a top executive at Rio, and the other defendants were arrested last July in the midst of acrimonious iron ore pricing negotiations with China which eventually broke down.
Ironically, their trial took place as the equally contentious 2010 negotiations are underway.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner and Hu’s arrest and detention have strained its relations with Beijing. The government in Canberra and particularly the Mandarinspeaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, have tried hard to play down the case, but they have taken a drubbing in the Australian media for not doing enough to stand up for a citizen caught up the harsh Chinese justice system.