Page last updated at 09:32 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

China trial of Rio Tinto staff goes behind closed doors

The Shanghai court where the group are being tried
Australian diplomats are barred from the session on commercial secrets

The trial in China of four executives from mining giant Rio Tinto has gone behind closed doors on its second day.

The closed phase was described by the court as necessary to consider charges of "infringing" commercial secrets.

On Monday, Australian Stern Hu and his three Chinese colleagues told the Shanghai court they had taken bribes but disputed the amounts alleged.

Rio Tinto is pursuing more business deals with Beijing despite the trial of its staff.

Australian diplomats were present in the court on Tuesday morning but told to leave for the afternoon session.

The Australian consul-general in Shanghai, Tom Connor, told reporters outside the court that the accused had been allowed to respond personally to the allegations against them "and make any points they wished to in response to what the prosecution has been saying".

Four executives including one Australian on trial
Group face charges of bribery and illegally obtaining commercial secrets
Parts of the trial will be held behind closed doors, despite Australian objections
Trial is scheduled to last three days

However, he added that Stern Hu, the Australian executive on trial, had made no comment in court while lawyers from both the prosecution and defence laid out their arguments.

The trial is scheduled to take three days and trials do usually follow a pre-determined path in China.

Mr Hu was Rio Tinto's lead negotiator in the talks with Chinese steel mills to try to settle a price for China to buy iron ore from Australian mining companies.

If convicted on commercial espionage and bribery charges he and his colleagues - Liu Caikui, Ge Minqiang and Wang Yong - face lengthy jail terms under Chinese law.

Speaking as the trial opened, Rio Tinto's chief executive, Tom Albanese, said that the company remained committed to strengthening ties with China.

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