The Australian Consulate in Shanghai said on Monday (January 11) that Chinese authorities have sent the case of four detained Rio Tinto employees—including Australian citizen Stern Hu—to prosecutors.
Stern Hu was detained in Shanghai last July along with three Chinese executives from the Australian mining company. They were eventually charged with “stealing commercial secrets.” Under such a charge, Chinese courts can jail people for up to three years—or seven years in "especially serious" cases.
Rio Tinto says their four employees did nothing wrong.
The case has been sent to Chinese prosecutors, and they have about a month now to decide if they will send the men to trial. Alternatively, they could refer the case back to police if they feel the case is not strong enough for a prosecution.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned the Chinese regime it has major economic interests at stake in detaining Hu and the world is watching how it handles the case.
China is Australia's biggest trade partner, with trade worth $53 billion last year. Australia exported $15 billion worth of iron ore to China in 2008, or 41 percent of China's iron ore imports.