Mining giant Rio Tinto guilty of commercial espionage worth 100 B dollars: China

Shanghai (China), Aug.10: Relations between China and Australia are likely to take a turn for the worse with authorities in Beijing accusing the British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto of engaging in commercial espionage that cost China about 100 billion dollars.

The sensational allegation was published on Sunday on a website affiliated with China's State Secrets Bureau, which has detained four Rio Tinto employees - three Chinese citizens and one Australian - in Shanghai last month on suspicions of stealing confidential documents from the country's huge, government-controlled steel industry.

This is the first time that China had suggested a long-running conspiracy.

China said computer data had revealed that Rio Tinto employees engaged in extensive spying on the industry, allowing it and other suppliers to vastly overcharge China for iron ore, a central ingredient in steel.

The case has rocked China's steel industry, which purchases billions of dollars worth of iron ore every year from Rio Tinto and other global mining companies.

The detentions have also thrown China's annual negotiations with the world's biggest iron ore producers into chaos at a time when demand for iron ore and steel is soaring in China because of an economic recovery, the New York Times reports.

Rio Tinto officials could not be reached Sunday for comment. But the company has strongly denied any wrongdoing in the case.

The British-Australian company BHP Billiton, the world's biggest mining company and also a major supplier of iron ore to China, also declined to comment.

The new allegations, published by China's National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets, named only Rio Tinto but suggested that all foreign iron ore suppliers benefited.

The article has offered few details, but said evidence China had found on Rio Tinto computers showed that the company gathered extensive intelligence on China's steel industry, giving it an edge in setting annual benchmark prices for iron ore over the past six years.

The price of iron ore has skyrocketed in China during that period, peaking in 2008 at more than 200 dollars a ton. The Chinese Government contends that the price was manipulated during those six years, costing its steel industry an additional 100 billion dollars.

The website article did not make clear how the government came to such a figure.

Copyright Asian News International/