Detained employees of Australian miner Rio Tinto (RIO.AX)(RIO.L) have hired high-profile lawyers to defend against allegations of illegally obtaining commercial secrets and bribery, in a case that has raised tensions between Australia and China.
Australian citizen Stern Hu, the head of Rio’s sales team in China, hired Duan Qihua, or Charles Duan, founder of Duan & Duan, China’s first private law firm in Shanghai, two sources familiar with the case and the Shanghai Morning Post said on Friday.
Hu and three colleagues were detained in early July, shortly after a deadline passed in iron ore negotiations between the Chinese steel industry, represented by the China Iron and Steel Association, and miners Rio, BHP Billiton (BHP.AX)(BLT.L) and Vale (VALE5.SA).
The Australian government has pressed for more information on the case, while Rio Tinto maintains its employees are innocent.
The four were formally arrested this week, and their lawyers have filed for permission to see their clients.
Chinese law does not require them to have access to their lawyers until after the current stage of investigation. In some cases, the lawyers might be granted access, but will not be able to see case documents until a later stage.
Their arrest sheet did not include the more sensitive charge of state secrets, which would have limited the ability of the men and their lawyers to see the evidence against them. Other charges could, however, still be added.
Duan specialises in international trade, direct investment and litigation, according to his firm’s website (www.duanduan.com), and is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body.
He was not immediately available for comment.
Hu’s three colleagues have turned to criminal defence lawyers with experience in high-profile cases in Shanghai.
One defended Shanghai property developer Zhou Zhengyi on corruption charges, while another one helped represent Yang Jia, a migrant worker who attracted widespread public sympathy after hacking to death six Shanghai policemen while in custody.