Chinese police have concluded an investigation into a detained Australian Rio Tinto Ltd executive and three colleagues arrested on charges of infringing trade secrets and bribery and sent the case to prosecutors, the Australian government and Chinese state media said last Monday. Four Rio staff, including Australian citizen Stern Hu, has been in Chinese custody since July over accusations of illegally obtaining commercial secrets.

Rio Tinto and the Australian government have urged China to allow the four, including Stern Hu, an Australian citizen who headed Rio Tinto's iron ore business in China, legal representation and to handle the case in a transparent way.

Hu and the three other employees were detained last July on charges of bribery and commercial espionage during iron ore price talks. They were charged in August with paying bribes to obtain confidential information about China's steel industry.

A brief statement by Shanghai's public security bureau, carried by state news agency Xinhua late on Monday, did not specify on what charges the four might be tried. It noted they were investigated for infringing trade secrets and bribery.

"The case is now in the hands of the Shanghai People's Procuratorate (prosecutor) who will decide whether it should be brought to trial," said Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT), after being notified by Chinese authorities.

ˇ°We are not in a position to say how long this phase of the case will take, and are not prepared to speculate about the outcome. Details of the actual charges are not likely to be known until the prosecutors have made their decision on whether the case should proceed to trial," DFAT said in a statement.
China is Australia's biggest trade partner, with trade worth $53 billion last year. Australia exported $15 billion worth of iron ore to China in 2008, or 41 percent of China's iron ore imports.

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