Tue, Mar 23, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Rio Tinto executives plead guilty to bribe charges in Shanghai

REUTERS , SHANGHAI

Four Rio Tinto executives on trial in China, including Australian Stern Hu (胡士泰), pleaded guilty to taking bribes while contesting the amounts, lawyers at the hearing said yesterday.

Hu and three Chinese employees of giant miner Rio — Liu Caikui (劉才魁), Ge Minqiang (葛民強) and Wang Yong (王勇) — faced prosecutors in the court in Shanghai accused of taking bribes and violating commercial secrets.

The case has thrown a spotlight on China’s often murky marketplace, where legal boundaries can be vague, creating pitfalls for businesses seeking profits from the world’s third-biggest economy.

“Stern Hu definitely pleaded guilty [to the bribery charges],” Tao Wuping (陶武平), the lawyer for Liu said after the hearing.

Tom Connor, the Australian consul general in Shanghai who attended the hearing, told reporters that Hu was accused of taking bribes of 1 million yuan (US$146,500) and US$790,000.

“Mr Hu made some admissions concerning some of those bribery amounts, so he did acknowledge the truth of some of those bribery amounts,” Connor said.

Lawyers for the three Chinese defendants said their clients also acknowledged taking bribes, but rejected some of the accusations made by prosecutors.

“Part of the charge should not constitute a crime,” Tao said, referring to Liu, who was charged with receiving 3.7 million yuan in bribes.

Wang admitted he was “guilty in part,” his lawyer, Zhang Peihong (張培鴻), said.

Zhang said the US$9 million that Wang was accused of taking as a bribe was legitimate “profit from an iron ore deal.”

The US$9 million was part of 70 million yuan amount that Wang was accused of taking as bribes, Zhang said.

“There are plenty of reasons to argue against the rest of the amount,” Zhang said.

The trial is scheduled to continue until tomorrow, with the commercial secrets charges likely to be heard today, the lawyers said.

While the trial was opening in Shanghai, Rio chief executive Tom Albanese signaled to an audience in Beijing that he did not want to jeopardize business ties with China, the world’s biggest consumer of iron ore.

“This issue is obviously of great concern to us,” Albanese told a forum of officials and executives. “I can only say we respectfully await the outcome of the Chinese legal process.”

“We remain committed to strengthening our relationship with China, not just because you are our biggest customer, but because we see long-term business advantages for both of us,” Albanese said.

Foreign reporters were not allowed to attend the forum and Rio e-mailed copies of Albanese’s speech. A Chinese Web cast of it did not include his comments on the trial.

The four employees from Rio’s iron ore team, including Hu, were detained last summer at the height of fraught negotiations over last year’s ore prices, creating a furor over China’s opaque state-secrets laws.

Chinese media last summer accused the four of seeking information about Chinese mines and steel mills, which many firms consider legitimate market information.

Rio has said that its employees did nothing wrong.

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