In 2010, four employees of the mining giant were jailed and accused of stealing commercial secrets. Today, the company is more reliant on China than ever.
For eight years, Stern Hu rose every morning at 6 a.m. in Qingpu Prison near Shanghai. He and the dozen men who shared his cell would blearily pull on their blue-and-white-striped uniforms and line up in front of their bunks for the day’s first duty: greeting the guards. “Good morning, officer!” they’d shout. “Thank you for taking care of us, officer!”
Everyone in Brigade No. 8, the foreign prisoners unit, knew Hu. The quiet 61-year-old stood a head taller than the rest. Chinese-born, with an Australian passport and a shock of white hair, he’d been a star at Rio Tinto Group, one of the world’s largest mining companies, before being sent to prison in 2010 for stealing trade secrets and taking bribes. The Chinese government said his actions had cost the country’s steel industry as much as $100 billion.
To the members of Eight Brigade, Hu was also the guy who ran the library. After a breakfast of rice gruel with a spoonful of pickled vegetables, he’d take his post at a small desk next to some bookshelves at one end of the common room.
He was supposed to keep track of who borrowed the books, but a former fellow convict says he let people do as they pleased. Most of his day was spent translating things for the guards. At 9 p.m., when the automatic lock on his cell door clanged shut, he’d lie on a thin mattress and listen to his bunkmates snore or cry out in their sleep.
Hu also completed self-denunciation classes, writing out long scripts apologizing for his actions. His reward for this, combined with his library service and reputation for good behavior, was to have his sentence reduced from 10 years to eight.
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