Timeline: Ethnic Chinese punished for stealing secrets, spying

SHANGHAI (BestGrowthStock) – A Chinese court gave four Rio Tinto employees jail terms of 7 to 14 years on Monday for taking bribes and stealing commercial secrets in a case closely watched by foreign investors and the huge domestic steel industry.

The case had raised foreign investors’ concern over China’s legal system, particularly the paucity of official information surrounding the secrets charges.

Following is a chronology of cases involving ethnic Chinese executives of foreign companies and Chinese-born, overseas-based academics, reporters and dissidents charged with stealing state secrets, espionage or other crimes.

* March 1996 – An official of the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp is detained for leaking state secrets to a Chinese employee of Royal Dutch Shell who was released after spending a year largely incommunicado. Shell was in talks with CNOOC then to build an oil refinery.

* October 1996 – China frees a Chinese employee of Swiss-owned SBC Warburg, detained for a month on suspicion of leaking state secrets, apparently for having helped prepare materials for company clients on the trend of China’s currency, the yuan.

* November 1999 – Australian businessman James Peng, held in a Chinese prison for six years, is released on parole and deported. He had been abducted from a hotel in Macau in October 1993, spirited across the border to China and sentenced in 1996 to 18 years in jail on bribery charges.

* January 2000 – Song Yongyi, a Pennsylvania-based scholar and expert on China’s chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, is released after five months in a Chinese prison on charges of gathering state secrets. He has since become a U.S. citizen.

* July 2001 – Li Shaomin, a Hong Kong-based U.S. professor, is convicted of spying for Taiwan, but spared a sentence and released after five months in custody. The conviction was handed down a day after Beijing won its bid to host the 2008 Olympics.

* July 2001 – Gao Zhan and Qin Guangguang, Chinese academics with U.S. permanent residency status, are sentenced to 10 years in prison each for collecting intelligence for Taiwan. They are released days later, ahead of a visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

* February 2003 – A Chinese court sentences dissident Wang Bingzhang, a permanent U.S. resident, to life in prison on charges of terrorism and spying for Taiwan after he enters the country illegally.

* May 2004 – A Chinese court hands Boston-based scholar Yang Jianli a five-year prison sentence for entering China illegally and spying for Taiwan in a case that drew U.S. Congressional attention and triggered widespread criticism abroad.

* August 2006 – Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong reporter for Singapore’s Straits Times, is jailed for five years for spying for Taiwan. He is paroled in February 2008, six months before Beijing hosts the Olympic Games.

* Late 2007 – Chinese-born American geologist Xue Feng is held on state secrets charges after setting up the purchase of an oil industry database. The United States is seeking his release.

* November 2008 – China executes Wo Weihan, a businessman accused of spying for Taiwan, despite a last-ditch effort by his daughters to appeal for clemency through diplomatic channels. Wo had lived in Germany and Austria for many years. His ex-wife and daughters are Austrian citizens.

* March 2010 – China-born Australian citizen Stern Hu, who headed Rio Tinto’s iron ore operations in China, is sentenced to serve 10 years in jail after receiving terms of 7 years and 5 years on bribery and stealing commercial secrets charges. Three other executives, all Chinese nationals, are sentenced to between 7 and 14 years on bribery and secrets charges.

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(Compiled by Benjamin Kang Lim and Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Ken Wills and Paul Tait)

Timeline: Ethnic Chinese punished for stealing secrets, spying