Australian National University Professor Don Rothwell has agreed with a senior Chinese Government official who said crimes allegedly committed by Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu could have breached Australian law.
The official, Chinese vice foreign minister Liu Jieyu, was visiting Australia to observe the Labour Party national conference and indicated the Chinese Government believes the case against Hu is strong.
"The facts of the case would constitute a violation of Australian laws were the facts [to] happen here in Australia," he said.
Rothwell said that Australia had committed itself internationally to combating bribery by signing up to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Transactions in 1999.
"This convention is designed to ensure greater transparency in dealings with foreign governments and to combat a culture of graft, corruption and bribery which exists between some corporations and foreign governments," he said.
The Howard government brought in adjustments to the Commonwealth Criminal Code which gives force under Australian law to key provisions in the OECD Convention, added Rothwell.
"The Criminal Code (Division 70) makes it an offence for an Australian citizen to seek to engage in the bribing of a foreign public official. The act is wide enough to extend to officials of 'foreign public enterprises' such as those which operate in the Chinese steel industry under government control," he said.
Jieyu said that the decision to prosecute the Rio Tinto executive was in the interests of overseas businesses working in China.
"By dealing with this case, we are really establishing, or we are really trying to establish, a good environment for all companies in China ... [for] foreign companies operating in China and local Chinese companies," he said.
Rothwell said that while the facts released by the Chinese Government in the Hu case remained limited, it could be asserted that Hu's dealings with some officials in the Chinese steel industry amounted to bribery contrary to Australian law.
"This raises issues as to whether the Australian Federal Police, in light of the revelations in this case, are conducting their own separate enquires into the conduct of Stern Hu in China with a view to possible criminal proceedings under Australian law," he said.