China releases Australian mining exec Stern Hu from prison

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BEIJING (AP) — An Australian citizen and former executive of the mining giant Rio Tinto was released from prison in Shanghai on Wednesday after serving a sentence on corruption charges, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

Stern Hu had been given a 10-year sentence after being convicted of accepting bribes and stealing trade secrets in 2010. The case strained ties between Australia and its largest trading partner, China, whose legal system is often criticized for a lack of transparency and due process.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said during a regular press briefing in Beijing that Hu's sentence was reduced because of good behavior.

Hu's "lawful rights and interests in accordance with law" were ensured during his prison sentence and his sentence was "mitigated" because he also observed China's "laws, regulations and disciplines," Lu said at a daily news briefing.

Hu led Rio Tinto's iron ore operations in China before he and three Chinese colleagues were arrested in 2009.

The case closely followed fraught negotiations between Rio Tinto and a Chinese state-owned company which ended after Rio abandoned a $19.5 billion deal. That fueled speculation that Hu and his colleagues were being targeted for retaliation, but China rejected the notion that the deal was a factor in the arrests.

Australia-China relations have been tense in recent months, as Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed legislation on foreign interference amid accusations that Beijing was meddling in Australia's domestic politics.

Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said in a statement that she welcomed Hu's release.

"Australian consular officials in China will continue to provide consular assistance to Mr. Hu and his family for as long as it is needed," Bishop said.

Rio Tinto has head offices in both London and Melbourne.

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