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Rio Tinto trial to continue behind closed doors in China

The bribery and trade secret trial of the Rio Tinto executives in Shanghai will now continue behind closed doors. Australian diplomats will also be excluded from the court room. Canberra has asked China to reconsider this decision.

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AFP - A Chinese court on Tuesday moved the diplomatically sensitive trial of an Australian executive with mining giant Rio Tinto behind closed doors, after he admitted he had taken bribes.

Stern Hu and three Chinese employees first appeared in the dock on Monday in a case that has soured ties between Beijing and Canberra, and stoked concerns about doing business in China and the rule of law in the country.

Hu and the other men -- Liu Caikui, Wang Yong, and Ge Minqiang -- are being tried on bribe-taking and trade secrets charges, eight months after their arrest and detention in Shanghai.

"The court declared that was the end of the proceedings related to bribery charges and that the session this afternoon would be related to the commercial secrets charges," said Australia's consul general in Shanghai, Tom Connor.

He told reporters outside the court that the defendants had been given an opportunity to personally respond to the charges during the morning session, but Hu made no comment.

Connor added that the afternoon session would be closed to Australian diplomats. Canberra has asked China to reconsider the closure of the other hearings.

The closed-door hearings have added to questions over whether the men can get a fair trial.

Hu, the head of the Anglo-Australian company's Shanghai office, pleaded guilty on Monday to taking bribes, said Liu's attorney, Tao Wuping. The Australian however contested the amount of the bribes.

Australia's government also said Hu "made some admissions," but said it would make no further comment until the proceedings end on Wednesday.

Hu was charged with accepting a total of around six million yuan (880,000 dollars) in bribes, according to Tao and the Australian government.

Tao said both Hu and Liu pleaded guilty. He said the others also were accused in court of accepting large bribes, but it was not immediately clear how they had pleaded.

Tao told AFP his client Liu faced a charge of accepting three million yuan in bribes, while Wang and Ge were charged with accepting bribes of 70 million yuan and six million yuan, respectively.

Access to the trial at the Shanghai No 1 Intermediate People's Court has been restricted. Only a handful of reporters from state-run domestic media were seen being allowed into the courthouse.

The case is being widely viewed as a test of whether China is willing to honour commitments to foreign investors.

The four were arrested in July during contentious iron ore contract talks which later collapsed, and after Rio snubbed a near 20-billion-dollar cash injection from its largest shareholder, the state-run Chinese miner Chinalco.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said on Monday that the world will be watching the trial "very closely".

In Australia, the head of Rio Tinto's iron ore division, Sam Walsh, told Dow Jones Newswires that the company would "respect the outcome" of the trial, but declined further comment.

The company, the world's third biggest miner, has previously said it was not aware of any wrongdoing by its employees.

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