China arrests employees of miner Rio Tinto on spy charge; Australia presses for access

China arrests Rio Tinto employees on spy charge

BEIJING — Four employees of Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd. have been arrested on charges of stealing state secrets, a government news agency reported Thursday, providing the first official Chinese confirmation of the case.

The Xinhua News Agency report gave no details of the charges. The Australian government says one of the detained employees of Rio’s Shanghai office is Australian and is pressing Beijing for access to him.

The weekend detentions came amid contentious iron ore price talks between Rio and Chinese steel mills. But there has been no indication whether the case is linked to the negotiations.

China’s vague laws on industrial espionage and other spying give authorities wide latitude in deciding what to prosecute. The government treats a sweeping array of economic and other data as state secrets.

The maximum penalty for a conviction on espionage charges under Chinese law is life in prison.

The Rio employees are accused of “alleged stealing of China’s state secrets,” Xinhua said, citing state security officials in Shanghai.

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