March 18, 2010
Stern Hu and his three Rio Tinto colleagues have been listed for a secretive trial in a Shanghai court on Monday.
Australian officials have been told they will be barred from parts of the proceedings, prompting a retort from the federal government.
The trial will coincide with a visit to Beijing by the chief executive of Rio Tinto, Tom Albanese, during which he will attend the China Development Forum and is expected to announce a joint venture agreement with Chinalco to develop a huge iron ore mine in Guinea.
Mr Hu and three members of his iron ore sales team - Wang Yong, Ge Minqiang and Liu Caikui - face charges of infringing commercial secrets and receiving bribes.
They have been held in a Shanghai detention centre since being taken from their homes on July 5.
Prosecutors have not released any details of the crimes allegedly committed and lawyers for the accused have also been kept in the dark.
Zhai Jian, lawyer for Ge Minqiang, showed signs of strain yesterday after being asked how he had been notified of the trial.
"I am very unhappy with the way you are raising the question," he said. "I got the notice and that's it. It's got nothing to do with you."
But Mr Zhai confirmed the trial would start at 8.30am on Monday and he would find out where "when the notice is in my hand".
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had been informed that the defendants would be tried at the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court. It said consular officials in Shanghai would attend the proceedings concerning bribery but would be barred from the commercial secrets proceedings.
"Australian officials have asked for this to be reconsidered," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement last night.
Jerome Cohen, a New York University expert on the Chinese criminal legal system, said China "used to admit US consuls to secret trials, but that changed in recent years".
He urged the US government to challenge China's recent restrictive interpretation of the criminal legal procedure treaty between the two countries.
"Perhaps the recent PRC change in practice is another example of the new assertiveness," he said. "But this is the first case I have heard where a distinction is made so that certain charges are heard 'in public' while others are not."
Some of China's leading lawyers have told the Herald that it had been a mistake to sign up Shanghai lawyers for a politicised Shanghai case such as Mr Hu's because local lawyers are more tightly controlled by the Shanghai Communist Party's "politics and law committee".
Beijing political sources have told the Herald that the case has been caught up in factional rivalry between President Hu Jintao and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.
But an observer told the Herald yesterday that Mr Hu had requested that the case be "resolved" expeditiously. He predicted that ''good news will surface soon''.