China puts 18 more Australians on trial for economic crimes

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Beijing/Canberra, Mar.31 (ANI): China has said that it has zeroed in on 18 more Australians, which it put on trial for "economic crimes", further aggravating relations with Canberra.

According to news.com.au, the Kevin Rudd Government is tracking these trials, even as it deals with the 10-year sentence imposed on former Rio Tinto mining executive Stern Hu.

So far, 18 of a total of 23 have been arrested in relation to "fraud and other economic crimes", the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said yesterday.

There are 17 Australians serving sentences in Chinese prisons, according to DFAT. Most were convicted of fraud or corruption.

A further two were on assault charges, one is on a charge for a car accident, one for a visa violation and one is on a drugs charge.

Hu, an Australian citizen, was sentenced to ten years in jail plus two hefty fines for bribery and industrial espionage after a three-day trial, in which the part covering claims of spying was closed to Australian observers.

China has urged Australia to "stop making irresponsible remarks" over the Hu case, saying that Canberra should respect the verdict.

Following the verdict, the Australian Government had claimed that part of the trial was held in secret and condemned the sentence as "very harsh".

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: "We express serious concerns about some comments made by the Australian side on the Rio Tinto case."

"The Rio Tinto case is an individual criminal case and China"s relevant judiciary department has given its verdict after the first instance trial. The Australian side should respect the verdict and stop making irresponsible remarks," The Xinhua news agency quoted Gang, as saying.

Hu, a former executive of Rio Tinto mining group in Shanghai, was detained with three other Chinese colleagues by the Chinese government on July 5 2009. He was sentenced after he pleaded guilty on Monday.

The Australian Government has called in the Chinese Ambassador to Australia to discuss the situation, with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd under pressure to intervene in the issue on a higher level.

Earlier, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith had reportedly said that China had missed an opportunity to clarify its laws regarding commercial secrets. (ANI)

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