Page last updated at 06:36 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 07:36 UK

Rio denies China bribery claims

Rio Tinto office in Shanghai - 10 July 2009
Rio Tinto says its staff followed the company's strict code of behaviour

The Anglo-Australian mining firm, Rio Tinto, has strongly denied its staff engaged in bribery as alleged by China.

Australia has also repeated its request for a quick resolution of the case, in which one Australian and three Chinese Rio Tinto staff have been detained.

China, which detained Australian Stern Hu on 5 July, has told Australia not to interfere in the legal process.

Analysts say the allegations of spying against Rio Tinto in Shanghai risk damaging Australia-China ties.

"Rio Tinto believes that the allegations in recent media reports that employees were involved in bribery of officials at Chinese steel mills are wholly without foundation," Rio Tinto's iron ore chief executive Sam Walsh said.

"We remain fully supportive of our detained employees, and believe that they acted at all times with integrity and in accordance with Rio Tinto's strict and publicly stated code of ethical behaviour."

Rio added that it remained "very concerned" about its employees and said it was still shipping iron ore to China, following reports it was pulling out staff and cutting back exports.

Polite talk

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said he had pressed China "politely but firmly" to push through the case.

"When I had my conversation with Vice Minister He, I made the point that Australia understood that this was a matter before Chinese legal and potentially judicial processes," Mr Smith told public broadcaster ABC, after meeting China's Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei during a multinational summit in Egypt.

PM Kevin Rudd, 17th April 2009
Mr Rudd has come under pressure over the spying allegations

Their meeting came a day after China told Australia not to interfere in its judicial process.

"We are firmly against anyone stirring up the case and interfering with the independent judicial authority of China. This is not in the interest of Australia," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Thursday.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned that China has big economic interests at stake in the case of a mining executive accused of spying.

The United States has also urged Beijing to ensure transparency and fair treatment for staff of foreign companies.

The Shanghai-based staff of the Anglo-Australian mining firm Rio Tinto are accused of stealing state secrets from Chinese steel mills.

China has widened its investigation into the industry's workings by investigating executives at Chinese state-owned steel firms in recent days.

In June, Rio Tinto abandoned a $19.5bn deal with China's state-owned Chinalco in favour of a tie-up with rival giant BHP Billiton, to the anger of some in Beijing.

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