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Verdict awaited as Rio Tinto trial in Shanghai comes to an end

The bribery and trade secrets trial of the Rio Tinto executives came to an end Wednesday without an immediate verdict. A court spokeswoman declined to say when a verdict might be announced.

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AFP - The trial of four employees of mining giant Rio Tinto ended in China on Wednesday without an immediate verdict, after testimony about millions of yuan in bribes being stuffed into bags and boxes.

Australian executive Stern Hu and three other Chinese employees had been in the dock in a Shanghai court since Monday on charges of bribery and stealing trade secrets, amid concerns about whether they are getting a fair trial.

All four defendants in the highly-sensitive case pleaded guilty to taking money, defence lawyers say, although they have challenged aspects of the charges.

A court spokeswoman declined to say when a verdict might be announced.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith chastised China for locking the country's diplomats out of the trial during the hearings on the commercial espionage allegations and said he was not expecting a verdict for days.

Defence lawyers for three of the men told AFP the trial had concluded at midday, but declined to comment on when a verdict might be delivered.

Witnesses testified that tens of millions of yuan were put in cardboard boxes, locked money boxes, "reusable" bags and delivered by hand to Hu and others, according to a report in the state-run National Business Daily.

Hu, the head of the Anglo-Australian mining giant's Shanghai office, and the three Chinese men -- Wang Yong, Liu Caikui and Ge Minqiang -- have disputed several aspects of the charges against them, defence lawyers have said.

Wang's attorney Zhang Peihong said all four had pleaded guilty to taking money, but there had been "intense debates in the court" about the amounts involved.

Zhang said only one man had pleaded guilty to the charges of stealing commercial secrets but he declined to identify the defendant, saying only that it was not his client.

He said two others had made "ambiguous" statements in response to the more politically sensitive charges.

Wang has strongly objected to the bribery allegations, saying he had simply borrowed the money from one of China's richest men, Du Shuanghua, the National Business Daily said.

Du, the former head of Shandong-based Rizhao Iron & Steel group, contradicted Wang's account in court, testifying that he had paid the Rio employee nine million dollars for preferential treatment, the newspaper said.

The bribes were paid per tonne of iron ore and were made in dollars before the global financial crisis and in yuan afterwards, it added.

Australia's government has said Hu "made some admissions" in court, without elaborating. Rio, the world's third-biggest miner, has previously said it was not aware of any wrongdoing by its employees.

The four were arrested in July during contentious iron ore contract talks between top mining companies and the steel industry in China, the world's largest consumer of the raw material. Those talks eventually collapsed.

The initial hearings related to the bribery allegations were restricted to select state media outlets.

But the case moved behind closed doors on Tuesday for the commercial espionage charges and even Australian diplomats were excluded from the courtroom.

"We regret that and have made that point clear to Chinese officials," the Australian foreign minister told national broadcaster ABC.

"The court will adjourn to consider its verdict and to consider sentencing if that's required," Smith added. "There may well be some time, a matter of days, between the end of the hearing today and those further processes."

China has insisted the case was being handled in accordance with law and consular agreements, and that it is keeping Australia -- a key trading partner -- informed about the proceedings.

The case is widely seen as a test of the rule of law in China and has raised questions about doing business in the world's third-largest economy, a huge consumer of Australian resources.

Under Chinese law, the toughest sentence for non-government officials convicted of accepting bribes is 15 years in prison, Zhang said.

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