By Ben Blanchard and Chris Buckley
BEIJING, Feb 10 (Reuters) – China has indicted four employees of Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto on charges of bribery and stealing business secrets, setting the stage for a trial in the case that has jangled investor nerves.
The four who are set to stand trial in Shanghai include Australian citizen Stern Hu, state news agency Xinhua said on Wednesday.
If found guilty, they could face up to seven years in jail on the commercial secrets charge, and up to 20 years on the bribery charge, said Zhang Peihong, a lawyer for one of the accused Chinese nationals.
The indictments will open another chapter in the case that has tested ties with Australia and unnerved mining companies and foreign investors in China, worried about pitfalls in the world’s third biggest economy, where state power is never far from the negotiating table.
Last month, the world’s top Internet search engine Google became embroiled in a dispute with China, criticising Beijing for censorship and saying it had been the victim of serious hacking from within the country. It has threatened to pull back from China.