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Asia-Pacific

Rio Tinto staff jailed in China

media Policmen at the entrance of the Shanghai's No 1 People's Intermediate Court Reuters

Four employees of mining giant Rio Tinto have been jailed in China on charges of bribery and trade secrets. Australian citizen Stern Hu was sentenced to 10 years. After the sentencing, Rio sacked all four employees.

The sentences ranged from seven to 14 years, in a case that also involved three Chinese employees of Rio, and has strained relations with close trading partner Australia.

The men were found guilty of stealing trade secrets, including the minutes of a China Iron and Steel Association meeting and information on China steel giant Shougang's output, the court said.

This marked the first time that details on the trade secrets charges had been publicly revealed.

Australia slammed the "very tough" bribery sentence handed to Hu, saying there were serious questions about the trial.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith described the seven-year bribery term as "harsh" and hit out at Chinese authorities for denying Australian diplomats access to the commercial secrets hearings.

"I feel very much for Stern Hu and his family. Whilst we do not condone bribery in any way I think the sentence, on any measure, is harsh," he said.

Smith said the case would not cause any long-term damage to Australia's relationship with its top trading partner.

The Shanghai court said Hu, who heads Rio's Shanghai office, also took bribes totalling 6.46 million yuan, or 700,000 euros.

It handed down jail terms of 14 years to Wang Yong, eight years to Ge Minqiang and seven years to Liu Caikui.

Liu's lawyer said his client was likely to appeal. But it was not immediately clear whether Hu and the other defendants planned to appeal.

The four Rio employees were arrested last July during contentious iron ore contract talks between top mining companies and the steel industry in China.

Hu also was fined 54,000 euros and had another 54,000 euros worth of personal assets confiscated, the court said.

The trial has been closely watched as a test of the rule of law in China and has sparked concerns about doing business in the world's third-largest economy.

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