March 26, 2010 / 12:09 PM / 10 years ago

Rio China trial defendant says treated fairly: lawyer

BEIJING (Reuters) - Stern Hu, the Australian citizen and Rio Tinto executive on trial in China this week on charges of bribery and stealing commercial secrets, said he has been treated fairly, his lawyer told Reuters on Friday.

Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu is seen in this undated handout picture obtained on July 15, 2009. REUTERS/Handout

Hu and three Chinese colleagues await Monday’s verdict in Shanghai in a case that strained Sino-Australian relations and worried foreign investors concerned about equal treatment in Chinese courts controlled by the Communist Party.

The case is also closely followed by the steel industry because Rio Tinto is the world’s second-largest mining firm and one of the top three global miners of iron ore.

“Stern himself explicitly and repeatedly confirmed to us that he has been fairly treated; my colleague ... and I do share his opinion,” lawyer Jin Chunqing, of Fangben Law Office in Shanghai, told Reuters in an email.

Jin gave no other details.

All four pleaded guilty to the bribery charge but contested the amount of kickbacks alleged by prosecutors, lawyers said.

Only one defendant, Liu Caikui, pleaded guilty to infringing commercial secrets, lawyers said. Liu was charged with the least amount of alleged kickbacks [ID:nSGE62N0EO].

“Due to the complexity of the charge of infringing upon business secrets, it is hard to predict the final outcome for the time being,” Jin said.

The three were detained in July, at the height of tense annual negotiations over iron ore prices, and formally arrested in August.

Because Hu is an Australian citizen, Australian diplomats were allowed to observe the bribery portion of the trial. However, China closed the portion dealing with the commercial secrets charges, a decision Australia protested against.

Foreign journalists have been barred from the courtroom and Chinese media coverage has been limited.

Writing by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Paul Tait

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