The admissions of bribe taking — although no details of the allegations have been released — are a blow for Rio Tinto at a time when it is striving to restore good relations with China. The four also face charges of stealing commercial secrets, and final verdicts in the trial could take weeks.
“Only in the last year have we come upon some difficulties, which we are working hard to resolve,” Rio Tinto’s chief executive, Tom Albanese, told a conference in Beijing on Monday.
Stern Hu, an Australian national, was Rio Tinto’s top executive in charge of iron ore for China when he was arrested. The lawyers said Hu and the three Chinese nationals — Liu Caikui, Ge Minqiang and Wang Yong — pleaded guilty but disputed the amounts they are alleged to have accepted.
See also an editorial on the case from The Age:
IN THE Shanghai No.1 People’s Intermediate Court four employees of the mining firm Rio Tinto have been on trial for obtaining secrets by improper means. The secrets will have something to do with iron ore imports. Whatever they are, their significance pales before the biggest secret of all in China, a secret known to everyone doing business with the country, but withheld from most of its 1.3 billion people.
The secret is how China’s massive current account surplus largely earned by its low-paid factory workers is not translated into domestic wealth that China’s citizens can enjoy, but parked in low-earning foreign reserves or invested abroad for national and corporate aggrandisement. The offsetting domestic credit expansion is then directed into investment too, more and more infrastructure and public buildings, or speculative investment in housing, shares and commodities.