A Chinese court on Monday gave jail terms to four people, including an Australian, in Rio Tinto case for bribery and stealing commercial secrets.
The Intermediate People's Court in Shanghai gave jail terms ranging from seven to 14 years to the four defendants, including Australian Stern Hu, in the case, court sources said.
On July 5, 2009, four employees of Rio Tinto, a multinational mining and resources group with headquarters in London and Melbourne, were arrested in Shanghai for corruption and espionage. Hu was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined one million yuan ($146,413, Rs 68.8 lakh) for stealing commercial secrets. His assets were also confiscated, Xinhua reported.
Co-accused Wang Yong, Ge Minqiang and Liu Caikui were handed jail terms of 14 years, eight years and seven years respectively. They were also fined and their assets were seized by the court.
Reacting to the verdict, Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in Canberra that “by any measure” they were tough sentences.
Du Shuanghua, the well-connected founder of private mill Rizhao Steel, testified that he had given $9 million in appreciation payments to Wang Yong, the head of one of Rio Tinto's sales teams in China.
The court said the accused tried to acquire commercial secrets from Chinese steel firms through illegal means between 2003 and 2009. Last year, more than 20 Chinese steel-makers paid 1.02 billion yuan extra for iron ore imports because of the crimes committed by the accused, the court observed.
The trial took place March 22-24 and was attended by the families of the defendants, local legislators and staff with the Australian consulate-general in Shanghai, among others.
The court named some of the country’s largest independent iron ore traders and private mills as the source of kickbacks.
The involvement of the firms, including the trading arm of Sinochem Corp, private Rongcheng Steel in Tianjin, and Tangshan Guofeng, a private mill that is one of China’s largest producers of steel plate, could affect volatility in spot iron ore markets if the firms desist from active imports in the future.