US eyes ex-Mongolia PM’s luxury flats in corruption sting

US eyes ex-Mongolia PM’s luxury flats in corruption sting
US eyes ex-Mongolia PM’s luxury flats in corruption sting

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - The US Department of Justice sought yesterday to seize two multi-million-dollar Manhattan apartments allegedly bought with the proceeds of a corruption scheme run by Mongolia’s former prime minister. — Picture via Unsplash.com/ColtonDuke

WASHINGTON, March 27 — The US Department of Justice sought yesterday to seize two multi-million-dollar Manhattan apartments allegedly bought with the proceeds of a corruption scheme run by Mongolia’s former prime minister.

Citing money laundering statutes, the federal agency said Sukhbaatar Batbold purchased the properties — collectively worth US$14 million — using the profits from illegally awarded mining contracts in mineral-rich Mongolia.

“Today’s forfeiture action sends a message that criminal activity is never included in the homeowner’s agreement,” said US attorney Breon Peace in a media statement.

“As alleged, former Mongolian Prime Minister Batbold used high-end New York City real estate as a cover for his illicit corruption scheme.”

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The civil forfeiture complaint alleges that Batbold abused his position as prime minister to award mining contracts from a state-controlled copper mine to “entities owned or controlled by his associates or his son.”

It adds that the alleged scheme “concealed the fact that Batbold and his family were violating Mongolian anti-corruption laws by benefiting from the sale of millions of dollars’ worth of Mongolian natural resources.”

Batbold, who was prime minister of Mongolia from 2009 to 2012, has previously denied the corruption allegations against him, with his lawyer telling Japanese newspaper Nikkei in 2021 the claims were orchestrated by political enemies.

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Land-locked Mongolia — sandwiched between Russia and China — has seen rapid economic growth after a mining boom, with profits from coal making up a quarter of its gross domestic product in 2022, while it also exports copper and iron ore.

But the former Communist nation, while democratically governed, is saddled with widespread corruption which hampers further development, according to US-based think tank Freedom House.

Michael Nordwall, assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, said: “While he was Prime Minister of Mongolia, the defendant allegedly used corrupt funds and a sophisticated money laundering scheme to purchase two luxury New York apartments.

“Make no mistake, the FBI is dedicated to identifying assets gained through corruption and working with our partners to recover the funds, no matter how obscured.” — AFP

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