The trial has opened in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province, of a senior official charged with taking bribes to sell valuable coke export quotas during 2004 when world prices reached record levels, a newspaper reported at the weekend. Fan Ping, 47, president of the international trading company of the Shanxi Coking Coal Group, went on trial on June 13, charged with taking two million yuan. Several other industry and government officials are also due to be tried, the Economic Observer said. China is the world's biggest producer and exporter of coke, an essential component in the iron-smelting process. Coal producers in Shanxi supply 40 per cent of the world's coke. In 2004, world prices reached a peak of US$440 a tonne and the European Commission threatened to take China to the World Trade Organisation unless it cut restrictions on exports. Heavy domestic demand had caused China to divert some exports to local steel mills. To avoid a WTO suit, China agreed to supply the EU with at least 4.5 million tonnes of coke in 2004, about the same as in 2003. Prosecutors say that it was during this period that Fan took bribes to give quotas to producers that wanted to take advantage of the record world prices, the newspaper said. In April 2004, the Wenfeng Coking Factory agreed with Fan to pay her company a fee of US$182 a tonne for the right to export 20,000 tonnes and to pay her a bribe of two million yuan as well. In October 2005, the same firm paid her 160,000 yuan for the right to export a further 20,000 tonnes. Fan has pleaded innocent, saying that the payments were legitimate handling fees which her company earned for managing the exports. This trade in quotas has led to the detention of other officials including one in the import/export division for industrial products of the Ministry of Commerce, officials of other Shanxi coking firms and of the Shanxi provincial government. The case came to light in the first half of last year when officials of the Shanxi Central Disciplinary Commission of the Communist Party detained Niu Xinmin, chairman of Shanxi Coking, after receiving reports that he had taken bribes. Niu refused to co-operate with the investigation and denied any wrongdoing but he has been formally charged with bribery and having income for which he could not account. Niu is being held in a detention house in Yangquan, 100km from Taiyuan. Lawyers for Fan and Niu were unavailable for comment at the weekend. Last year, China produced 243 million tonnes of coke, up 18 per cent over 2004, making up 57.5 per cent of world output. Its exports fell 15 per cent to 12.76 million tonnes, or 45.5 per cent of the global trading volume in coke. Export prices during most of last year were about US$250 a tonne, but they fell to US$123 in March this year. Since last year, the domestic industry has been struggling with a domestic and international coke supply glut. The surge in prices in 2004 from growth in global steel output prompted China and other coke producers to pump billions of dollars into building new coke ovens. Total capacity in China had grown to 300 million tonnes by last year.