I was at the court house (although sadly not inside the court room – that privilege was only accorded to Xinhua and Xinmin Evening News) for the Rio Tinto trial yesterday.
I’ve written about it here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/china-business/7497195/Rio-Tinto-executives-admit-bribery-in-China.html
Some things to note, however.
1. China talks about wanting the outside world to respect its judicial process, but will not let foreign journalists into an “open” trial, or respect the agreement it has with Australia that should permit Australian consular officials into the closed part of the hearings.
2. As far as I can tell, the four men are not being tried for the crimes that they were arrested for. When China arrested Mr Hu nine months ago, they claimed he had systematically bribed the Chinese steel sector for inside information.
Now he is being charged with having received bribes, a totally different crime. Scratch deeply enough into the grey area of doing business in China and there are plenty of other chief executives, both domestic and foreign, who might be charged with similar offences. In short, it looks like political reasons were behind the arrest of Mr Hu and his colleagues (see point one again).
3. Who is representing Mr Hu? Duan Qihua, a relatively famous Shanghai lawyer, was originally named, but yesterday he didn’t show up in court and his assistant tells us he is not involved. Instead, two new lawyers appeared, but no one was willing to divulge their identities.
4. Admitting that you have taken bribes is not the same as making a formal “guilty” plea. That will presumably come today. Yesterday was an acknowledgement that the prosecution has a case, today is the chance for the defence to argue its interpretation of events.
5. Why admit the bribes? Well, as James Areddy of the Wall Street Journal put it so succinctly, in China there is usually “leniency for those who confess, severity for those who resist”. But making a plea bargain with Chinese courts is a risky business – there’s no way to wriggle out or claim foul play if the authorities decide to stitch you up anyway.