Former Mongolian finance minister Bayartsogt Sangajav has been arrested by Swiss prosecutors as part of a corruption probe concerning development of the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine, Mongolia’s largest public project to date. Sangajav was detained by Swiss authorities on Sunday, according to a report by Reuters.
Oyu Tolgoi is notable for its large investment by Rio Tinto subsidiary Turquoise Hill, which has provided (alongside partners) $US5.3 billion ($6.9 billion) for development of over 200km of tunnels as part of an underground expansion at the project, with first production is expected by 2020; Rio Tinto is not currently implicated in the Swiss probe.
First instigated in a 2013 release by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) Offshore Leaks Database that detailed Sangajav as an intermediary of an offshore Swiss bank account that saw over $US10 million ($13 million) in transfers shortly after he took office, Sangajav’s account was seized by Swiss authorities in January of this year — ICIJ was the consortium also responsible for the later Panama Papers leak that made headlines across the world in 2015.
Former Prime Minister Saikhanbileg Chimed, who left office in 2016, is also sought for questioning (though not arrest) regarding potential abuse of power over the Oyu Tolgoi project.
In January, the current Mongolian PM Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh met with Rio chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques to discuss the project’s further development, including community development and national power solutions.