Battle of puppets
The public was sorely reminded of the 2012 arrest of former President N.Enkhbayar when the police and a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team was seen raiding the offices of parliamentarian Kh.Battulga’s companies at Bayangol Hotel Office on April 10.
Most people were disturbed to see a former President being escorted unceremoniously, carried upside down by masked special police in non-regulation attire. Friends and supporters of Kh.Battulga feared for exactly that scenario and gathered at Bayangol Hotel Office to prevent his arrest.
The media and the public thought that Kh.Battulga was being arrested, but the economic crimes division and the Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC) claimed that they were only there to investigate Kh.Battulga’s two companies – Tumen Khishigten LLC and Bayalgiin Khuvi LLC – and not to arrest Kh.Battulga.
“There was a need to review the financial documents of Tumen Khishigten LLC and Bayalgiin Khuvi LLC in relation to the New Railway and Sainshand projects. These two companies are headquartered at Bayangol Hotel Office and we are searching the companies’ offices with permission from the prosecutor. We are not here to arrest parliamentarian Kh.Battulga,” said General Police Department spokesperson B.Baatarkhuu.
Chaos and disorder
Many on social media believed that the police and SWAT team were at Bayangol Hotel Office to arrest Kh.Battulga, and claimed that they couldn’t conduct the arrest because many people gathered there to oppose their actions, including the national men’s judo team. More than 40 judokas came in a hurry from the nearby National Olympic Committee building, where they were training, after hearing news that the Mongolian Judo Association’s president, Kh.Battulga, was being arrested.
To support this claim, local media was reporting that there were snipers placed at Gereg Tower near Bayangol Hotel, and some reporters questioned why it was necessary for the SWAT team to be involved in the confiscation of financial documents from private companies being investigated for a non-violent crime.
The same issue was raised when N.Enkhbayar was arrested. TV9 broadcasted the whole thing, and the public saw the raiding of the former President’s house from the inside. It left a bitter aftertaste, and people witnessed the brutality and excessive force used by law enforcement even when suspects are obedient and unarmed.
State Honored attorney S.Narangerel told Chuhal.mn, “I saw the press conference given by the General Police Department. They explained that they brought the special forces to address the possibility of resistance when confiscating documents. This can’t be. What does it mean when they use so much force just to confiscate documents from two regular companies? If this is the norm now, we can forget about human rights. This is fascism, a one-person tyranny.”
Kh.Battulga’s assistant was arrested on the morning of the raid. So it was no surprise that hundreds of people gathered when the heavily armed five-hour search was taking place at Bayangol Hotel Office.
The gathering also drew politicians and celebrities, including Members of Parliament J.Batzandan (Head of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Petitions), G.Uyanga, and B.Garamgaibaatar (Head of the Democratic Party group in Parliament), as well as M.Zorigt (Minister of Roads and Transportation), Mayor E.Bat-Uul, former sumo grand champion D.Dagvadorj, and Olympic judo champion N.Tuvshinbayar.
People from Bayankhongor Province, Kh.Battulga’s electoral district, also came to support the politician. Bayankhongor resident N.Odnoo told Eagle News, “Over 500 vehicles left Bayankhongor [to support Kh.Battulga]. We will not lose our steadfast state representative this way.”
After the incident, Kh.Battulga gave a short statement to the press and people gathered at Bayangol Hotel Office, and claimed that the raid was part of a plot to discredit him, “They brought a lot of police on purpose, to make things difficult. They are trying to investigate my private companies over the railway issue. The mastermind behind this will be revealed soon.”
Kh.Battulga was to hold a press conference on the investigation yesterday, but was it postponed.
Today.mn reported that Kh.Battugla held a “secret” meeting with Speaker of Parliament Z.Enkhbold, former President N.Enkhbayar, and former Prime Minister N.Altankhuyag on Tuesday night. According to Today.mn, the four reportedly plotted against President Ts.Elbegdorj to allow Parliament to appoint the head of the IAAC. The Justice Standing Committee discussed the resignation of the head of the IAAC, N.Ganbold, this week and passed it on to Parliament. As is procedure, the President is to propose a new head of the agency to Parliament. The IAAC is seen by his opponents as the President’s tool for eliminating his political rivals. Lately, the President seems to have made a lot of enemies, including N.Altankhuyag and Kh.Battulga.
The friction all allegedly stems from the Tavan Tolgoi coal project, Mongolia’s biggest coal mine. During the search at Bayangol Hotel Office, parliamentarian L.Erdenechimeg said, “There are Tavan Tolgoi groups in all parties. The agreement which allowed the transfer of Tavan Tolgoi to foreigners was terminated and not signed. This is why this all started. If we don’t solve the Tavan Tolgoi issue, this situation will continue.”
Tug of war
Hong Kong listed Mongolian Mining Corporation, which owns Energy Resources LLC and various other ventures in Mongolia and elsewhere, made a bid for the Tavan Tolgoi megaproject, but failed when it met opposition from Kh.Battulga and his friends in Parliament. Prime Minister Ch.Saikhanbileg and Minister of Mongolia in charge of megaprojects M.Enkhsaikhan, who are said to be “President Ts.Elbegdorj’s men”, made the agreement with Mongolian Mining Corporation in 2015.
N.Altankhuyag recently said that the President was behind a conspiracy in politics to “sell off the nation”. He was referring to the Tavan Tolgoi deal with Mongolian Mining Corporation, which is largely owned by foreign entities. He implied that his government was overthrown not because of declining GDP growth or poor foreign investment, but because he wouldn’t give Tavan Tolgoi away to foreigners.
In March, Mongolian Mining Corporation didn’t make principal and interest payments on a 200 million USD loan facility and wasn’t able to get a temporary waiver from banks, which sparked a crossdefault on its bonds. The company seems to be in a difficult financial position. Kh.Battulga and his associates believe that if Mongolian Mining Corporation had taken over Tavan Tolgoi, the project’s approximately four billion USD investment would have been used to pay off its debts and the project would only end up adding to Mongolia’s foreign debt burden.
Kh.Battulga implied that because of Tavan Tolgoi, those who work for Mongolian Mining Corporation in Mongolian politics are trying to silence him by finding dirt in his past. He claimed that the investigation of his private companies started because they couldn’t find anything illegal in his government ventures – the railway project and Sainshand industrial complex project.
Amidst all this, parliamentarian D.Ganbat said that even if it is proven that Kh.Battulga’s companies committed financial crimes, they would be pardoned through the Amnesty Law, and that there are no grounds to imprison Kh.Battulga.
“I headed the legal working group for the Amnesty Law. If there really is an issue, it would be subject to the Amnesty Law. Just stop making a big deal,” D.Ganbat said.
Let’s take step back and look at the bigger picture. The disunity in society, chaos, and excessive force used by law enforcement reminiscent of fascism that we are witnessing today is the curse of a resource-rich developing nation. But the people of Mongolia must not choose sides on this occasion, because any political force that dominates a nation eventually becomes too big and only works to serve its own interests. Mongolia has witnessed this many times over. This time, the people of Mongolia must be smarter. What we must do as voters and as Mongolians is to rationally think through what we want from our leaders, never lean towards one side or the other based on personality and influence, but support those who are most able to meet our demands and those who stand for what is right.
The election is near, and the Tavan Tolgoi issue will carry on until then. Big issues, like the Tavan Tolgoi issue, are used as a catalyst for chaos by ambitious politicians to gain power. This time, let us demand an end to use of excessive force by law enforcement, injustice, and the tyranny of ruling parties from our election candidates. Let’s demand better candidates who are able to serve the public’s interests, rather than party or individual interests. Political parties are not the nation, and political candidates should realize this above all, and honestly evaluate whether they can bear this responsibility.
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