According to press reports, in 2009 Chinese authorities launched an investigation into Rio Tinto Limited's alleged bribery of Chinese officials, as well the company's alleged stealing of state secrets from state-owned steel mills. The bribery allegations included accusations by the Chinese government that the four employees had bribed executives from sixteen of China's major steel mills to obtain industry information.
Four Rio Tinto employees in China were arrested and charged in connection with the matter - Stern Hu, the company former General Manager in Shanghai and an Australian citizen, and three Chinese colleagues. At the time of their formal charging, the four employees were charged with paying bribes to Chinese steel mill officials, receiving bribes from Chinese steel mills, and stealing commercial trade secrets. The charge related to making improper payments to Chinese officials appears to have been dropped during the course of the trial.
On 29 March 2010, following a trial that was closed to the public, the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court found the four Rio Tinto employees guilty of accepting millions of dollars in bribes and stealing commercial secrets (there was no further mention of the initial charge that they paid bribes to Chinese officials). The defendants were given sentences of between seven and fourteen years in prison and were ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Stern Hu received seven years in prison for bribery and five years for stealing commercial secrets, which the court then reduced to a total of ten years.
Wang Yong, Ge Minqiang and Liu Caikui appealed their convictions; their appeal was rejected by the Higher People's Court of Shanghai on 17 May 2010.
At the time of the conviction of the Rio Tinto employees, the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court stated that it also planned to charge at least two Chinese steel industry officials with passing trade secrets to the company.
Shortly following their convictions, the four employees were terminated by Rio Tinto.
On 4 July 2018, the Chinese government released Stern Hu from prison since his imprisonment in 2010 due to taking bribes and illegally accessing commercial secrets.