Reporting from Beijing — China has indicted four employees of the British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto for alleged bribery and theft of commercial secrets, a move that paves the way for a trial in a case that has already elicited widespread international criticism.
The four were arrested last July and include Australian citizen Stern Hu, the company's leading iron-ore negotiator in China.
They "took advantage of their position and sought and accepted huge amounts of bribes from many Chinese steel companies," said a brief online report Wednesday from the New China News Agency that cited China's prosecutor's office.
"They also obtained commercial secrets from Chinese steel companies through methods including inducement and caused extremely serious consequences," the report said The arrests have tested a $54.5-billion Sino-Australian trade relationship. Australia supplies China with about 40% of its iron ore so is vital to its continued urbanization and national development.
Foreign ore suppliers have been battling Chinese steel mills over prices since demand surged in 2009 for minerals. China tried to avert the problem by buying a stake in Rio Tinto last June. But the deal was rejected because Australian lawmakers feared it compromised the nation's natural resources.
The indictments also come at a time of growing discontent among foreign businesses in China, which complain about policies favoring Chinese state-owned companies.
The threat by Google Inc. to quit China last month over censorship and alleged hacking has underscored the risk of doing business here.
The four Rio Tinto employees, who include Chinese nationals Wang Yong, Ge Minqiang and Liu Caikui, will stand trial in Shanghai.
The report did not say when the trial would begin.
A representative for Rio Tinto was not immediately available for comment late Wednesday in Beijing.