x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Rio awaits evidence against its employees

World Rio Tinto says it has yet to be given any evidence to support the detention of four of its China-based staff on suspicions of stealing state secrets.

CANBERRA // Rio Tinto says it has yet to be given any evidence to support the detention of four of its China-based staff on suspicions of stealing state secrets. The mining giant said it had not been informed of any charges against its detained staff, who include its top iron-ore salesman in China, Stern Hu, also an Australian citizen. Mr Hu and three Chinese colleagues were detained a month ago on suspicion of spying on Chinese steel mills. Rio, the world's second-largest iron ore producer, and the Anglo-Australian firm BHP Billiton, the third-largest producer, are locked in iron ore price talks with China.

"We are still not aware of any evidence that would support their detention," said Sam Walsh, who heads the iron ore division at Rio. "We continue to be concerned for the health and welfare of our three other employees detained at the same time as Stern Hu." The Rio detentions have cast a shadow over trade between the two countries, which was worth US$53 billion (Dh194.66bn) last year. On Tuesday, Stephen Smith, the Australian foreign affairs minister, delivered a veiled warning for Beijing to control its diplomats, after its embassy tried to block a speech in Canberra by an exiled leader of China's Uighur Muslim minority.

An online article published in a magazine run by China's state secrets agency at the weekend said Rio spied on the country's mills for six years, resulting in the mills overpaying $102bn for iron ore, Rio Tinto's biggest earner. The Australian government brushed off the Chinese report and said it was not officially sanctioned. "It is now quite clear, given that the article has been taken off the website, that it was essentially the opinion of the individual writer and not, if you like, officially sanctioned," Mr Smith said.

* Reuters