A Chinese court has sentenced four Rio Tinto employees to jail on charges of bribery and stealing commercial secrets.

The Shanghai Intermediate People’s Court sentenced China-born Australian citizen Stern Hu to ten years after being found guilty of bribery (a seven-year term) and stealing trade secrets (five years), a sentence that will run concurrently.

Hu, who headed Rio Tinto’s iron ore operations in China, was also fined $73,250 and has been ordered to hand over assets of the same value, according to Reuters.

His three other Chinese colleagues were sentenced to between seven and 14 years on the same charges.

Australian consul-general Tom Connor said that the sentences will begin from the men’s detention on 5 July 2009.

The court said the leaking of trade secrets caused a loss for Chinese mills, putting them at a disadvantaged position in iron ore pricing talks.

Rio Tinto said it will terminate the employment of the four, saying they behaved in a “deplorable” manner.