The fate of four Shanghai-based Rio Tinto employees accused of bribing officials at Chinese steel mills and obtaining secrets could be undecided until the second half of this year.

Rio Tinto issued a release this week saying the Chinese Public Security Bureau, which has concluded its investigations, has transferred the case to the People’s Procuratorate, the nation’s public prosecutor, which could take another five months to decide if the case should go to trial.

On 5 July 2009, four Shanghai employees were accused of bribery and corporate espionage.

The allegations include procuring commercial secrets of the Chinese steel industry, which is a violation of Article 219 of the Chinese Criminal Law concerning breaches of commercial secrets.

The employees were also alleged to have violated Article 163 of the Chinese Criminal Law regarding receipt of bribes by non-state personnel.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore CEO Sam Walsh said the transfer is the next phase in a continuing legal procedure under Chinese law.

“It would not be appropriate for the company to comment any further at this point in the case other than to reaffirm our hope that matters proceed in an expeditious and transparent manner,” Walsh said.