Australia said on Thursday it had been told by China that the verdict in the trial of four Rio Tinto executives charged with bribery and stealing commercial secrets will be handed down on Monday.

The case in Shanghai has raised tensions between Australia and China, it's biggest trading partner, and highlighted Chinese sensitivities over its rich steel sector.

The Shanghai Number 1 Court has informed Australia's Consulate General in Shanghai that the verdicts in the trial of Mr Stern Hu will be delivered on Monday, 29 March, Australia's foreign affairs department said in a statement.

Australian consular officials will be present at the court at this time. The Australian government will make a considered statement after the conclusion of these processes, it said.

Australian Stern Hu and three Chinese colleagues have all admitted taking kickbacks but have contested the amounts alleged by prosecutors. They face possible jail terms of at least five years on the bribery charge.

Hu, the head of the China iron ore business, subordinate Ge Minqiang and iron ore salesman Wang Yong have denied the commercial secrets charge. The fourth defendant, Liu Caiku, has not contested that charge, his lawyer Tao Wuping has said.

Rio Tinto later said in a statement it had been advised verdicts would be delivered on Monday but made no further comment.

We'll need to see the verdict first before we decide whether or not to appeal, Liu's lawyer Tao, who earlier said he had not been told when the verdicts would be delivered, told Reuters.

The three-day trial, which ended on Wednesday, has also raised worries about China's secretive legal system.

Australia's Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has told China the world is watching how it handles the case.

Australia asked the trial be held in open court to ensure justice, but only the bribery charges were open to observers.

The trial comes at a time of increased strain between China, the world's third-largest economy, and foreign businesses.

On Monday, internet giant Google Inc. said it would redirect users of its mainland Chinese-language search engine to one based in Hong Kong over a censorship and hacking row.


Rio, seeking to improve relations with China, had maintained since the men were detained last July during sensitive annual iron ore price negotiations that they had done nothing wrong.

The case has forced Rio, the world No. 2 iron ore producer, to examine the way it conducts business in China. Iron ore is the main raw material in steel-making and China is the biggest consumer of the ore.

But the case seems to have had little impact on Rio's operations in China, which became its biggest customer last year, accounting for a quarter of its sales.

Days before the trial began, Rio Tinto signed a $2.9 billion deal with Chinese metals group Chinalco to develop an African iron ore mine .

Rio Tinto has conducted an independent internal audit to clear itself of any wrongdoing and determine whether there was evidence the company paid bribes to, or received illegal payments from, Chinese steel mills, Australian media said on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby in SHANGHAI; Editing by Paul Tait)