The Mongolian connection to Lukashenko’s money
On 6 November 2020, the EU, Switzerland and US froze the assets and accounts of 59 people around the world, including Belarus’s autocratic president, Alexander Lukashenko, his son and associates. Subsequently, it was revealed that Lukashenko's money-laundering network was sending large sums of money through Mongolia to offshore companies in Estonia and Dominican Republic.
Lukashenko had a few hard-currency cash cows. One was Belaz, a manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks and equipment used in mining. The Belarus state-owned Belaz sells trucks and other products through United Belaz Machinery, its official dealer in Mongolia.
The shareholders of United Belaz Machinery used to be Otgonjargal Moyle, a Mongolian citizen, and Vladimir Gennadievich Yaprintsev, from Belarus. Yaprintsev, is a three-time world champion in sambo. He’s made public his friendship with Khaltmaa Battulga, the Mongolia president. They met through their mutual love of sambo in the mid-1980s and established a joint venture in Mongolia.
Otgonjargal Moyle is a former personal assistant to Battulga. She was a shareholder in two of his companies, Tumen Khishigten and Bayalgyn Khuvi. Otgonjargal is now a high-ranking law enforcement official in the Mongolia Prosecutor General's Office.
United Belaz Machinery has a Mongolia sister company, United Belaz Machinery Investment Company. It’s suspected of laundering sums of money for Lukashenko under the guise of selling mining equipment in Mongolia.
Ownership of United Belaz Machinery was transferred by the pair to Meress, a company registered in Estonia and Blustait, in Dominican Republic.
The beneficial owners of these offshore companies are thought to be connected to Lukashenko.
United Belaz’s affairs are tightly-guarded. It is alleged that its lucrative dealerships are only awarded to those associated with the very highest levels of the Lukashenko regime and the country in which it sells the equipment, in this case, Mongolia.
The roles of the Estonia and Dominican Republic companies and what funds reach them requires further investigation, not only in Mongolia, but by international law enforcement agencies.
ProPublica has published a scathing report, “The country that exiled McKinsey”, detailing alleged corruption surrounding a Mongolia railway-building scheme and the creation of a bogus feasibility study. Battulga, then minister of road, transportation and urban development, and his advisor, Chuluunkhuu Ganbat, were heavily implicated. Otgonjargal Moyle, the original shareholder in the Belaz dealership, was also drawn in as an associate of Battulga.
After Battulga’s election as president, and the subsequent departure of the prosecutor general and head of the anti-corruption agency who were investigating the case, the probe and prospect of any prosecutions ended.
It was alleged during the railway inquiry that millions of US dollars in cash were being deposited by Otgonjargal Moyle in accounts of companies and foundations linked to Battulga. What was not clear is how a person with rather modest means and not a large publicly declared income had access to large sums of cash. Was it connected to Belaz? Again, we won’t know until this is properly looked into by Mongolian and international law agencies.
Otgonjargal Moyle is the wife of Ben Moyle, founder and former director of C1 TV, which is controlled by Battulga, and frequently unleashes attacks on his local political opponents. Ben Moyle is a UK citizen.
It’s to be hoped that Otgonjargal did not acquire UK citizenship, as under Mongolian law, dual citizenship is prohibited. In Mongolia, working as a government employee, especially in law enforcement, is considered to be a “special service branch of the civil service” and has a higher bar of compliance, as a foreign citizen is a grave offence.
United Belaz Machinery supplied the the state-owned Baganuur mine with four coal trucks, four dump trucks and a bulldozer. It received MNT 18.6 billion from the Development Bank of Mongolia to implement a project to expand the coal-crushing and loading facility, which was never paid back.
A total of 35 pieces of Belaz equipment, worth MNT 27 billion, was supplied to Erdenet, another state-owned copper mine. Documents were allegedly falsified and Belaz is suspected of having been in collusion with the plant's management.
Was Battulga's pressure and influence behind these deals, which also involved higher-than-market prices? If so, he has awkward questions to answer. Misusing power and favouring a specific supplier are criminal offences under Mongolian law.
The evidence heavily suggests the existence of a global network of assets and businesses tied to money laundering via Mongolia for Lukashenko.
The inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force has previously targeted Mongolia for money laundering and included the country on its “Grey List” of nations with deficiencies in their systems that must be more closely monitored. What is required now is a thorough investigation, not only into possible money laundering by Mongolia’s president and a high-level law enforcement official but also on behalf of a vilified European ruler.