The trial of four Rio Tinto (RIO.LSE, RIO.ASX) employees charged with stealing commercial secrets and taking bribes will begin on Monday in Shanghai, the Financial Times reported. Stern Hu, an Australian citizen who was Rio Tinto’s chief iron ore negotiator in China, and three Chinese colleagues – Liu Caikui, Ge Minqiang and Wang Yong – were detained nine months ago, initially accused of the more serious crime of stealing state secrets. The charges were later downgraded and the case was handed to state prosecutors in January. If convicted, the four face a fine and a maximum jail term of seven years on each charge, subject to a total of 20 years. The detentions have strained Sino-Australian relations and added a new twist to the already contentious price negotiations between the major global iron ore suppliers and Chinese steelmakers. Coincidentally, Rio Tinto CEO Tom Albanese is due to address the China Development Forum in Beijing on Monday.
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