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British-Australian businessman jailed in Mongolia appeals to UN over 'unfair trial' www.theguardian.com
A British-Australian citizen jailed for 11 years in Mongolia over a soured mining deal has taken his case to the United Nations human rights council claiming he was denied a fair trial.
After a trial in July that lasted just two days, Mohammed Ibrahim “Mo” Munshi was jailed for 11 years and fined $15m over a coal deal struck between Gobi Coal and Energy, of which he was chairman, and a company owned by Chuluunbataar Baz, a member of a prominent Mongolian family.
Munshi is the latest in a string of foreign investors to find themselves slapped with arbitrary travel bans or jailed over business deals in resource-rich Mongolia, while local partners seek to seize assets or alter agreements.
The tactic – of which foreign embassies in the country are aware – has been described as “Hotel Mongolia”, a take on the Eagles song Hotel California, from which “you can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave”.
Munshi’s family say the 57-year-old’s health is failing and the prospect of 11 years in prison had devastated his family.
“My dad’s quite a tough nut,” Munshi’s son Arif told the Guardian. “But this is starting to break him down, he’s becoming unravelled.
“He was moved on Monday to the equivalent of a maximum-security jail ... we are worried about his safety, and he is fearful for his own safety. He is asking us to do anything we can to get him out. He is very much fearful for his life.”
Munshi has varicose veins in his legs that doctors advise require immediate surgery. He is also unable to access medication to ameliorate the condition and so is at the risk of deep vein thrombosis and potentially fatal blood clots.
Munshi is a dual UK and Australian citizen.
A complaint lodged with the UN human rights council – of which both the UK and Australia are members – alleges there were gross irregularities during his trial.
“There was no prima facie case presented against Munshi at his trial, and the prosecutor even obtained a summary of the prosecution case from Baz’s attorney during the trial and presented it as the prosecution case,” the complaint says.
“Munshi was not given a fair trial in that his ability to address the criminal court and give evidence in his own defence was unreasonably limited.”
The complaint also alleges Munshi has been subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment: held in solitary confinement, physically harassed by guards, abused and spat on by other inmates, and allowed to shower only once every two weeks.
The case is, according to the complaint, “the improper use of the Mongolian criminal justice system in an attempt by a well-connected Mongolian national to attempt to secure Gobi Coal and Energy assets located in Mongolia”.
Munshi’s dispute arose after Baz’s company, Monnis International, invested $10m in Gobi Coal’s proposed mining projects in the south-west of the country.
But when the global coal price collapsed in 2012, a proposed initial public offering was postponed, with the projects put on hold until global prices recovered. Other investors acceded to ride out the price dip, but Baz reportedly demanded his money back.
Attempts at arbitration failed, and when Munshi visited Mongolia in 2015 he was hit with a travel ban and his passports were confiscated. The dispute dragged on until mid-2017, when Munshi was suddenly arrested, tried, convicted in a two-day trial and jailed. Gobi Coal’s licence over coal deposits was also suspended.
In court documents from the trial Baz alleged he had been tricked into investing in the projects and defrauded of his investment.
“Munshi committed the fraud, made others incur loss, received property of others by his or others’ company accounts, and changed financial statements.”
The court documents state Munshi “made a living” – understood to mean he funded his personal lifestyle – with investors’ money.
Munshi has denied the allegations. Through his lawyers, he told the court he had not made, or sought to make, any personal profit from any of the investments in the project, or used any investors money for personal expenses. More than 180 investors have remained invested in the Gobi projects.
Munshi said the case was a business dispute and should be settled by international arbitration not by punitive use of the criminal justice system.
“This is not a crime,” court documents, seen by the Guardian, say. “There is no physical evidence or written documents to support [Baz’s] claim of fraud, only his oral allegations.
“During this period, I lost everything that belonged to me. I spent 15 years to establish my company and develop it. All this was lost.”
The court documents state that Baz repeatedly offered to abandon the criminal prosecution in exchange for some of his investment being returned.
Attempts by the Guardian to contact Baz have not been returned.
The case has been complicated by a separate dispute involving Gobi Coal and another Baz family company. In March 2016, the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre ordered the Baz family to pay Gobi Coal $US11.5m over defaulted loans.
Within weeks of the arbitration decision, stories began appearing in Mongolian newspapers accusing Munshi of fraud.
He was arrested, tried, and convicted in a two-day trial in July last year, and has since been held in Detention Centre 461, the equivalent of a remand centre, in the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar.
His health has deteriorated, and his contact with family, legal representatives, and consular officials has been severely limited.
A substantive appeal to an appellate court failed, a final appeal to a higher court will be heard in coming months.
Last week Munshi was moved from Detention Centre 461 to a closed prison on the outskirts of the capital. His family has been told he can receive one short visit every 90 days, and one long visit every 120 days.
Munshi’s Australian lawyer, Alisdair Putt, who filed the complaint with the Human Rights Council, said his client had been subjected to an unfair criminal proceeding in which almost no incriminating evidence was presented.
“There must be serious concerns about the adequacy of that process in that it seems to have been motivated by a Mongolian investor attempting to gain an extortionate commercial outcome.”
Putt said the commercial dispute should be arbitrated before an international committee, not put before a criminal court. Putt, a former investigator in the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s office, said the “Hotel Mongolia” phenomenon was a troubling development in the country, where travel bans and criminal charges were used to detain and pressure foreigners.
Some reports say up to 50 foreign investors have been detained in the country using the tactic, which has been acknowledged by embassies. Forty workers employed on the Oyu Tolgoi mine in the Gobi Desert had their passports seized last week over alleged visa irregularities. Most have since been allowed to leave.
Both the Australian and UK governments have highlighted the use of travel bans in Mongolia in travel advice, while the US state department has warned: “investors and local legal experts have grown to fear what they call the capricious and arbitrary use of travel bans by Mongolian officials, sometimes at the behest of private interests, as a means to coerce foreign investors to settle civil and criminal disputes.”
Putt said: “It is a common tactic, and many people are affected by this. This shows the potential risk, there may be trumped-up criminal charges laid in efforts to win a commercial outcome.”...
Manchester United have topped the table of the world's 20 richest football clubs for the second year in a row, and tenth time overall, says Deloitte.
Its Football Money League, based on season 2016-17, also shows the combined revenues of the 20 clubs has risen 6% to €7.9bn (£6.97bn), a new record.
Real Madrid, which held top spot for 11 years, were second and Barcelona third.
There were a record ten English Premier League clubs in the top 20. The number in the top 30 was up from 12 to 14.
The list only looks at revenues accrued and does not take into account club debts.
This year's battle for first place was the closest ever, with just €1.7m separating Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Big Five leagues
Manchester United's €676m revenues were boosted by €44.5m from Uefa after winning the Europa League against Ajax.
Deloitte said this sum was "the critical factor in keeping them ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona".
Bayern Munich and Manchester City completed the top five, retaining their positions from last year.
Arsenal, Paris St-Germain, Chelsea, Liverpool and Juventus occupied places six to ten. Tottenham were in 11th spot, Leicester City 14th, West Ham 17th, Southampton 18th and Everton 20th.
All the 20 clubs represented are from the "big five" European leagues, with Italy, Germany and Spain contributing three clubs each and France one.
Other findings include:
AC Milan fall out of the top 20 for the first time and AS Roma for only the third time
Southampton is the only debutant in the top 20 after broadcast revenues soared
AFC Bournemouth is the only debutant amongst clubs ranked 21 to 30
China and the USA may see a member club enter the list in future
"Next year, we expect the eight billion euros [revenue] barrier will be broken, but revenue growth is not expected to be as significant as seen in 2016-17," said Dan Jones, partner in Deloitte's Sport Business Group.
"Germany's new domestic broadcast deal commences and will increase revenue, but Premier League and La Liga distributions will remain relatively stable, as both enter the second year of existing TV deals.
"Looking further ahead, the long term composition of the Money League is an intriguing topic. English clubs' dominance will depend heavily on the outcome of the Premier League's ongoing tender for the next three year TV deal starting from 2019-20."
DELOITTE FOOTBALL MONEY LEAGUE
•1. Manchester United: €676.3m
•2. Real Madrid: €674.6m
•3. Barcelona: €648.3m
•4. Bayern Munich; €587.8m
•5. Manchester City: €527.7m
•6. Arsenal: €487.6m
•7. Paris Saint Germain: €486.2m
•8. Chelsea: €428m
•9. Liverpool: €424.2m
•10. Juventus: €405.7m
Source: Deloitte, revenues for 2016-17 season.
The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) added 300,000 ounces (9.3 tons) of gold to its reserves in December, bringing the total yearly holdings to a record 1,838.211 tons, worth over $76 billion in monetary terms.
According to new statistics, Russia is currently the sixth-largest gold owner after the United States, Germany, Italy, France, and China. Analysts say if the current pace of gold purchases continues, Russia may dethrone China as the fifth-largest bullion holder as early as the first quarter of 2018. Chinese gold reserves currently stand at 1,842 tons.
Acquisitions of the precious metal by Russia reached a record 223 tons last year, accounting for 17.7 percent of overall Russian reserves. Since June 2015, the country has added over 558 tons of gold.
The CBR has more than doubled the pace of its gold purchases, according to Gold.org data. It has been increasing the country’s gold reserves to meet a goal set by President Vladimir Putin to make Russia less vulnerable to geopolitical risks. The Russian gold hoard has increased by more than 500 percent since 2000.
According to the World Gold Council, Russia is not only the largest official buyer of gold but also the world's third-biggest producer, with the central bank purchasing from domestic miners through commercial banks.
In the past 10 years alone, the country has mined more than 2,000 tons of gold, with annual production expected to rise to 400 tons by 2030.
Ulaanbaatar /MONTSAME/ Minister of Road and Transport Development J.Bat-Erdene put forward a request to launch railway construction work en route Erdenet – Ovoot in spring of 2019 when he met representatives of the project contractor ‘Northern Railways’ LLC on January 19.
As estimated USD 1.25 billion is needed to build 542km long railway from Erdenet city of Orkhon aimag to Ovoot mine of Khuvsgul aimag, which is considered as one of the biggest construction works in road and transport sector. ‘Northern Railways’ LLC will tackle funding collaboratively with the China Gezhouba Group International Company of China.
The railway will be connected with Russia and China, and become a part of an economic corridor which connects Asia and Europe. Regarding this, the project executor requested from the Minister to carefully define the route to be connected with railways of Russia and China.
Minister J.Bat-Erdene said that the Ministry of Road and Transport Development is ready to take necessary actions. "At present, preparation works of the project are going slow. So, it is necessary to finish the preparation works by the fall of 2018 and launch the construction work in the spring of 2019."
He also added that it is vital to make ongoing activities of the project transparent to the state and public.
In return, representatives of the Northern Railways Company agreed with the Minister's request and expressed their willingness to closely cooperate.
After having invested $1.2 billion to develop the Kamoa-Kakula project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is no surprise that Ivanhoe Mines’ executive chairman, Robert Friedland, is bullish on copper.
The engine that drives his confidence comes in the form of electric vehicles which, according to investment manager U.S. Global Investors, need up to four times the amount of copper traditional cars need and whose demand is expected to grow so much that, by 2027, 1.74 million tonnes of copper will be needed to meet it. Today’s demand is of 184,000 tonnes.
China is the main consumer of the world’s copper, with imports reaching 17.35 million tonnes in 2017. In its quest to curb pollution, the Asian giant is forecast to become one of the largest EV manufacturers in the coming years, thus increasing its copper needs even more.
Precisely talking to U.S. Global Investors about this topic, Friedland said that within this context people are going “to need a telescope to see copper prices in 2021.” Besides increased demand, he thinks prices could hit higher notes due to global supply disruptions such as those caused by labour negotiations in the world’s No.1 producer -Chile.
Ivanhoe Mines chairman, however, is confident his own project is going to continue to move forward smoothly. Located in an uninhabited area within the Central African Copperbelt, Kamoa-Kakula is set to become the third largest copper mine in the planet, only topped by Escondida in Chile and Australia's Olympic Dam in terms of sheer size. Its resource base was lifted above a billion tonnes and its average copper grade is estimated at 7.3 per cent.
Even though copper experienced a considerable fall this week, it had been on a tear since May 2017, reaching $7,000 a tonne for the first time in three years. Together with prices, China’s imports climbed to 17.35 million tonnes in 2017, up 2.3 per cent from the previous year.
The first legally compliant digital currency based on a physical asset, OilCoin, was announced last month. Each token will reportedly represent the value of one barrel of oil.
A team of banking and technology managers, and US regulatory commissioners who launched the digital currency claim it would provide users with a safe haven from cryptocurrency volatility.
RT talked to Alexandre Kateb, president of Competence Finance SAS, to understand if the new digital currency could one day become a real safe haven like gold.
“OilCoin will try to replicate the movement of oil prices, very much like a financial instrument called an oil future,” said Kateb, who explained that this contrasted with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the value of which is determined by supply and demand for the tokens in circulation, and the cost of issuing new tokens.
He added that OilCoin would have to be backed by physical oil inventories, unlike oil futures, which have to be rolled over periodically and is purely a financial instrument.
Kateb said that “very much like a traditional currency, it is possible to back a cryptocurrency by a physical asset” but expressed doubts that OilCoin could become a real safe haven.
He believes “commodity-backed currencies are a thing of the past, because in the modern world it is technological innovation that drives the economy, not the supply of physical commodities.”
Talking about the possibility of a new cryptocurrency affecting oil prices, Kateb said gigantic quantities of physical oil and other oil-related assets would have to be bought in order to have any such impact.
“It has been said that oil futures can affect oil prices, but according to the studies conducted by the IMF and other financial watchdogs, financial instruments backed by oil may affect the volatility of oil prices but not their level which is determined by the traditional supply and demand for the physical commodity,” he explained.
The economist said that OilCoin would be as volatile as oil itself, adding that it would also have the same kind of cost as oil, namely the "carry cost" incurred by storing physical oil.
“Therefore, the real value of an OilCoin could be subject to a continuous depreciation as time goes by. This is akin to the so-called "contango" effect, which is normally observed with oil futures,” said Kateb.
The most senior Communist Party official to go on trial in decades has been sentenced to 13 years in jail in Vietnam.
Former Politburo member Dinh La Thang was found guilty of economic mismanagement over losses in state oil firm PetroVietnam.
The former head of the firm was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The trial is part of a crackdown on corruption that involves high-profile energy and banking executives.
Twenty other people were sentenced on Monday in Hanoi, receiving jail terms ranging from three years suspended to nine years.
The trial is seen as a showcase of the Communist Party's fight against corruption but also an act of internal purging, correspondents say.
Rio Tinto is doubling down in Mongolia, where its operations have been hit with a triple whammy of complications in the past fortnight.
Chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques has travelled to the country and out into the Gobi Desert to reaffirm that Rio is there to stay despite the recent unrelated setbacks.
Rio said it was opening a new office in the capital Ulaanbaatar and expanding its Mongolian workforce to about 80 people.
The company said the expansion and Mr Jacques' visit were planned before the Mongolian government handed its giant Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine a $US155 million ($195 million) tax bill.
Mr Jacques was at the underground mine, in the Gobi Desert about 550 kilometres south of Ulaanbaatar, on Sunday.
Oyu Tolgoi was prevented from delivering copper to its customers late last week because of a border road block related to tensions between Mongolia and China.
The border, about 80 kilometres from the mine, reopened at the weekend but it is too soon to declare its operation back to normal given the threat of more protest blockades over new tariffs on Mongolian goods entering China.
The third incident involving Oyu Tolgoi involved a raid by Mongolian immigration officers that led to dozens of overseas workers, including Australians, being kicked out of the country over visa issues.
'We are here to stay'
Rio said those caught up in the visa issues were employed by contractors and not members of its staff.
The raid was part of a widespread crackdown on overseas workers in Mongolia targeting a number of businesses.
Rio's Canadian-listed subsidiary, Turquoise Hill Resources, which owns 66 per cent of the project with the remainder in the hands of the Mongolian government, said last week that it had paid all taxes and charges required under the investment agreement and Mongolian law.
"Mongolia is one of Rio Tinto's most strategically important markets and we are here to stay," Mr Jacques said in a statement to coincide with his visit.
"We have invested more than $7 billion in Mongolia since 2010, including salaries, supplier payments, investment in the community, and $1.5 billion in taxes, royalties and other payments to the government of Mongolia.
"Today we are demonstrating the deepening of our commitment to Mongolia through the establishment of a new country office under new Mongolian leadership to support our exploration, global technology services efforts and relationships in country."
The new office will support Rio's exploration program and technology centre. It will also focus on building stronger relationships with partners in Mongolia.
Munkhtushig Dul, a veteran of the public service and former Noble Group executive in Mongolia, will lead the new office and have responsibility for Rio's day-to-day operations in the country.
The new office will operate separately from the Oyu Tolgoi team led by managing director Armando Torres....
Ulaanbaatar /MONTSAME/ The 12th political consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United States Department of State took place on January 20 in Ulaanbaatar.
Representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Sport, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, the Ministry of Energy, the National Emergency Management Agency and the Institute for Strategic Studies of the National Security Council joined the US representatives from the Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, US Agency for International Development, and U.S. Embassy in the Annual Bilateral Consultations .
The meeting was co-chaired by State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ts.Davaasuren and the US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan A.Thornton.
During the meeting, Mongolia reported on the activities of the Government, foreign policy priorities, latest developments in political, social and economic spheres, implementation of the International Monetary Fund’s Extended Fund Facility program and measures taken to attract foreign direct investment and restore investors’ trust.
The sides noted how bilateral relations advanced in 2017 in the margins of the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations. In particular, bilateral relations have seen developments such as the re-selection of Mongolia as eligible country for a Second Compact Agreement of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, launch of USD 10 million project to boost Mongolia’s meat export, the first consultation on energy policy, re-establishment of Mongolia group in the US Congress, addition of Mongolia to the list of countries eligible for the H-2A/B visa program and implementation of LEAD and FLEX programs.
The meeting agenda included bilateral trade and economic cooperation, US investment into Mongolia, broadening of cooperation in defense, peacekeeping, agriculture, energy and security, finalization of the Second Compact Agreement and cooperation within the H-2A/B visa program.
Moreover, the meeting also touched upon on global issues, including security in the Asia Pacific region and the Korean Peninsula, and the US’ policy in the Indo-Pacific region.
The annual consultations have been held since 1998 in Ulaanbaatar and Washington in turn, with an aim to review the bilateral relationship and determine the future directions and priorities in bilateral relations.