Protesters gathered at Ulaanbaatar’s Government Palace on December 4 demanded the names of officials who have allegedly embezzled Mongolian state coal export profits of Mongolian tughrik (MNT) 44 trillion ($12.8bn) in the past two years. Christmas trees in Sukhbaatar Square were burnt down and protesters briefly blocked the capital’s main boulevard, Peace Avenue.
The demonstration, attended by dozens, was called in response to rumours allegedly spread by the prime minister in reference to huge amounts of coal profits that have been stolen, or embezzled into private entities, rather than placed in the government fund.
The protesters demanded accountability from the government on the issue at a time when any type of profit could help the country negotiate economic hardships brought about by the global economic downturn.
On December 5, Cabinet members held a press conference to address the allegations of theft surrounding the coal revenues.
"The government has discussed this issue three times," said Minister of Economic Development Khurelbaatar Chimed. “Powerful people and officials have been involved in coal theft. As a result, the Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi company was eventually subjected to a special regime," said Khurelbaatar, implying that people in state investment company Erdenes Mongol and state coal minere Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi were responsible for allegedly embezzled earnings.
"In relation to coal theft, 10 criminal cases have been initiated and they are being investigated in three types of cases involving contracts, transportation, and railways," Khurelbaatar added.
The minister identified five former directors of Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi as coal theft suspects.
Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi's CEO of four years, Gankhuyag Battulga, was dismissed in October, with no explanation for his departure forthcoming.
Pressure on the government to address corruption has risen with Mongolia’s consumers this year coming under pressure from an inflation surge into the double digits.
In late November, officials explained plans to turn Erdenes Mongol into a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) charged with investing profits from the country’s vast nature resources of coal, copper, gold and other minerals.