Australia, China Plan Prisoner Treaty That May Allow Rio’s Hu to Return

Former Rio Tinto Group official Stern Hu, serving 10 years for taking bribes and espionage in a Chinese jail, may get to serve out the rest of his sentence in Australia under a planned prisoner exchange treaty.

The accord will be submitted to parliament “shortly,” Australian Justice Minister Brendan O’Connor’s office said in a statement. Once court proceedings are concluded, prisoners will require consent from both governments and the territory where they want to serve out their term, before they can be transferred.

“Obtaining all parties’ consent to transfer can be a lengthy process,” O’Connor’s spokeswoman Jayne Stinson said in the e-mailed statement.

There are 25 Australians imprisoned in China including Hu, who was sentenced in March 2010 for accepting illegal payments and infringing commercial secrets. There are 16 Australians awaiting trial or sentencing in China, Stinson said.

Along with Hu, the Australian executive who led Rio’s iron- ore unit in China, three Chinese colleagues were given prison sentences of up to 14 years. Rio officials were not immediately available for comment.

Ties between the two countries were strained in 2009 after Hu’s arrest and Rio rejected state-owned Aluminium Corp of China’s $19.5 billion investment. Kevin Rudd, then Australia’s prime minister, said China “missed an opportunity” by holding parts of the case behind closed doors, adding that Hu’s conviction raised “serious unanswered questions.”

Trading Partners

China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with a two- way relationship that amounted to A$97.6 billion ($104 billion) in goods in 2010. Iron ore makes up more than one-third, or A$34.7 billion, of Australian goods exports to China, government figures show.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who took the party leadership from the Mandarin-speaking Rudd a year ago, yesterday refused to meet exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama in Canberra’s parliament house. Chinese officials accuse the spiritual leader of fomenting rebellion in Tibet, which makes up about a quarter of China’s territory.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at

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