A law firm representing a former Mongolian official caught up in an investigation into alleged corrupt mining payments connected to one of the world’s largest copper and gold deposits is launching an international pressure campaign to get the charges dropped.
Amsterdam & Partners has defended former prime minister Chimed Saikhanbileg for the past year against what the firm calls a “series of fabricated criminal charges aimed at weakening democratic opposition in the country and seizing control over the country’s mineral wealth.” Now the firm, which is based in Washington and London, has also registered as a foreign agent for Saikhanbileg as it prepares to advocate on his behalf with policymakers and the media in the United States and abroad.
In addition to its pre-existing legal representation, the firm will now offer pro bono services that aim to influence US policy “by highlighting the declining state of the rule of law and the increasing incidents of human rights abuses in Mongolia under the current government,” Amsterdam said in its lobbying filing with the US Department of Justice. The firm “plans to carry out these activities by means of lobbying, promotion, public relations and preparation and dissemination of informational materials.”
A member of the opposition Democratic Party, Saikhanbileg served as prime minister in 2014-2016, helping to oversee the expansion of Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto‘s Oyu Tolgoi copper mine. The site, the largest financial undertaking in Mongolia’s history, is on track to become the fourth largest copper mine in the world by 2030.
Saikhanbileg was arrested and briefly detained by Mongolia’s anti-graft agency in the spring of 2018 along with former prime minister Bayar Sanj, who helped negotiate the original 2009 agreement to develop the Oyu Tolgoi mine. The two men are accused of misusing their power in helping broker the investment and development deals unlawfully and without approval from the Mongolian parliament.
The probe was launched after the leaked Panama Papers revealed transfers to a Swiss bank account in the name of former Mongolian finance minister Bayartsogt Sangajav, who is also under investigation.
Part of the lobbying and public relations push is the dissemination of a 48-page white paper that details what Amsterdam & Partners calls the “persecution” of Saikhanbileg and warns of democratic backsliding in Mongolia.
“Mongolia is at a crossroads,” the white paper argues. “Long hailed as an ‘oasis of democracy’ in a difficult region of the world, there are worries that
this may be changing. Threats to the judicial independence of Mongolia’s courts and the instrumentalization of the country’s anti-corruption body and public prosecutor to serve political ends have set off alarm bells both inside Mongolia and throughout the international community.”
In an interview with Foreign Lobby Report on Monday, Amsterdam & Partners founder Robert Amsterdam said Saikhanbileg was “horribly treated” by current President Khaltmaagiin Battulga. Amsterdam said his firm aims to create political pressure on the government of Mongolia so it will drop the charges and Saikhanbileg, who has lived in the United States since being allowed to travel for urgent medical attention in 2019, can return home.
“These are allegations that have nothing to do with him personally. They have to do with the policies that he was involved in dealing with, and allegations that he abused his power by engaging in negotiations that were incredibly beneficial for the country,” Amsterdam said. “While the Mongolians are looking for a better relationship with the United States, they seem to be consistently backpedaling when it comes to rule of law.”
Julian Pecquet contributed to this report.