China state secrets watchdog says Rio Tinto committed economic espionage for 6 years

Chinese secrets agency says Rio spied for 6 years

BEIJING —A state secrets watchdog has accused mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd. of committing economic espionage for six years, saying in a report the spying caused “tremendous harm” to China’s economic security.

Rio Tinto declined to comment Sunday, but has previously rejected bribery allegations against its employees and has said it knows of no evidence to support spying charges.

Data obtained from Rio Tinto’s computers showed the company “used all possible means” to obtain secret information, including bribery, according to an article on Baomi.org, a Web site run by the State Secrets Bureau and an affiliated publisher said. It did not specify what the secret information was or cite specific evidence.

“For six years, these economic spies have curried favor, bribed and spied for information,” the article, dated Saturday, said. “The fact that it caused tremendous harm to the national economic security and interest is apparent.”

The report comes amid investigations by China into an industrial spying case against employees of Rio Tinto, four of whom were detained July 5 on espionage charges.

The government has released no details but state media say the employees who were detained during iron ore price talks — including a China-born naturalized Australian, Stern Hu, who runs Rio’s Chinese iron ore business — are suspected of paying bribes for information on China’s negotiating stance on the price of iron ore. Chinese news reports say executives of at least five major Chinese mills are being questioned.

The report said Rio Tinto’s alleged spying has forced Chinese steel companies to pay 700 billion yuan (US$102 billion) more for imported iron ore than they would have over the past six years, but did not say how it calculated that figure.

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