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China 'arrests' Rio Tinto four -

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ELEANOR HALL: Now to China where authorities today formally charged the four Rio Tinto employees
they've been holding in detention for five weeks. The four, including Australian Stern Hu, are
accused of violating commercial secrets and of taking bribes. But at this stage at least, they have
not been charged over the more serious allegations relating to state espionage.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it has yet to receive formal advice of the
charges from the Chinese authorities. Rio Tinto also says it has yet to be informed and it expects
to issue a statement later today.

But with the latest, we're joined now in Beijing by the ABC's China correspondent Stephen McDonell.
So Stephen, in China they use the term "arrested" rather than "charged", but just run us through
exactly what these four Rio Tinto employees are now officially accused of?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Yes well under the Chinese system they can be and indeed have been held for the
last five weeks without knowing what they're being held for, and so I suppose you would say they've
been detained. It's not like in Australia if the police take you in and then you appear before a
magistrate and then you know, this is what you're charged with.

So now they've been as you mentioned, officially arrested and what they're accused of is charges
relating to trade secrets infringement and bribery and that apparently this involves - according to
a report in Xinhua - obtaining commercial secrets through improper means and that this is a
violation of the criminal law.

Now under the Chinese system, the authorities have to wait for the prosecutor, that is the Supreme
People's Procuratorate, to actually say ok you can formally arrest these people. But what this
means is though that the initial investigation at least has come to an end and that the
investigators believe they've got enough to take this matter further.

ELEANOR HALL: So Stephen how critical is it that there is no mention of the spying that was being
talked about on official Chinese news sites earlier this week?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Yes well there is no mention of the more serious crimes relating to stealing
state secrets and I suppose the significance is that that might mean that if they were to go to
court, and it's still by no means official that they'll go to court, though it looks that that is
what's going to happen now. That this would be a more serious charge, so things to do with stealing
state secrets, well you know, you could expect a much longer time in jail.

But according to the documents that we've seen today, for example they're talking about these types
of charges that they'd be sentenced to not more than three years of fixed-term imprisonment. And if
it's considered by the court to be an especially serious case it would be not less than three years
and not more than seven.

But if for example, some time down the track, and the investigation is still going on, they're
charged with these other state secrets matters, well it would be a much longer time in court, much
longer time in jail.

ELEANOR HALL: So could more charges be brought later on?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Yes that's right. The police would keep investigating this matter, and I suppose
they'd be working with the state security bureau which is who's holding them, and it's a little bit
complicated because we've got the state security bureau which is the body that's holding them, and
earlier you mentioned this report on the website of the National Administration for the Protection
of State Secrets - that's a different body, that's the body in China that decides what is and isn't
a state secret.

So if they're charged with state secrets matters, they will advise the court as to whether or not,
you know, something is a state secret, which is, and in fact what they say will be binding by the
courts.

ELEANOR HALL: Now Stephen you say, one thing that we are at least almost certain of is that there
will be a trial, what is the process from here?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Well in China if they go to court and it does seem like they will in fact go to
court now, that it all can take place behind closed doors, there's no guarantee that for example,
anyone from the Australian Government even would, or Rio Tinto would get access to the court,
although they may well decide that in the interests of good will and transparency that that is the
case.

The people now, the four of them I think if I'm right now have access to a lawyer which is one good
thing, and which is something the Australian Government's been calling for so they can start to
prepare some sort of defence.

But the way the Chinese system works, it's like a prosecuratorial system, a little bit like Europe
where the prosecutors build up their case while they're holding them in detention, and then at some
point you get a lawyer and I'm assuming that's now, and you can start to prepare some sort of
defence.

But interestingly in the Chinese system, any witnesses for example, they won't appear in court,
they just make statements so you have no ability to cross examine them and to sort of really test
their evidence.

ELEANOR HALL: And have you got any idea how long this whole process could take?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Well, it could take a while, but I think because of the pressure that's coming to
bear on both the Chinese and Australian governments, and also China in its relationship with these
big multinational companies like Rio Tinto, I think they're going to try and get a move on with
this it looks like.

Now you know, for example, we saw this report that was put up on the website of this state secrets
administration this week, now because of the, I suppose, outcry following this, this is the body
that decides what is and isn't a state secret, and they're essentially saying it's as if ASIO had
its own website and put an article up on the website and said we've decided that this is a state
security matter, so the pressure that's come to bear as a result of that article appearing has
resulted in them ripping that article off the website and now they're desperately trying to
distance themselves from it in some way.

So I think there's a lot of pressure coming on both the Chinese and Australian authorities, the
Australian Government and the Chinese authorities in this whole strained relationship. And I think
they're probably going to try to get a move on.

ELEANOR HALL: Stephen McDonell in Beijing thank you. That's Stephen McDonell the ABC's China
correspondent.