Enkhbayar in Jail

Officials took Mongolia’s third president into custody last Friday, stirring up protest among his supporters and in Parliament. The former president’s arrest has drummed up anger among the populace just months away from this year’s June elections.

Videos of the arrest show former president Nambar Enkhbayar being escorted away without wearing shoes by out-of-uniform officials yesterday morning in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. A district court prompted the nation’s Anti Corruption Authority to go forward with the arrest for his repeated refusal to cooperate with a police investigation into himself for corruption.

At around 9 p.m. last Thursday night protesters took to Sukhbaatar Square, the capital’s most common gathering place for protests, and the same place where unrest broke out on July 1, 2008 after anger over supposed election fraud. Angry citizens took to the streets after current President Tsakhia Elbegdorj told local press that the he felt the election had been fixed to allow the country’s Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (currently under the name the Mongolian People’s Party) to remain in power.

That protest turned violent and demonstrators began marching the streets. Three high-ranking police officers are now facing charges for the murder of four individuals for their alleged distribution of live ammunition, according to a report by the Chinese news agency Xinhua.

Officials announced the reasons for Enkhbayar’s arrest to the press following the public outcry. The lead investigator to the case for the Anti Corruption Authority, E. Amarbat, said the former president has been investigated since February 2010 for his private use of public funds.

“We attempted to hand [Enkhbayar] a summons for his questioning 10 times, and each time he refused”, said Amarbat. The official added that his agency tried to reach him at his home and office to no avail.

Enkhbayar has publicly vowed to refuse all questionings by investigators on the matter.

The three main charges are the illegal privatization of local newspaper Ulaanbaatar Times, the illegal privatization of the Urgoo Hotel in his sister Enkhtuya’s name, and the use of donated equipment from Japan to open his own television studio and the station TV-9.

Amarbat said that equipment for Japan was to be given to the government to produce religious-based programming. TV-9 is the same station whose journalists were facing pressures from police officials to reveal their sources to a story on the Ulaanbaatar Times. Privatization of the local newspaper began when Enkhbayar was president, but the government turned against after he lost the 2009 election to current President Elbegdorj.

The international press organization Reporters Without Border reported that the newspaper’s former editor in Chief, Dulguur Chuluunbaatar, was arrested in March last year and was held for two months.

Officials said Enkhbayar will remain in prison for 12 days while interrogators question him on the charges.

Once again there was protest at Sukhbaatar square by former President Enkhbayar’s supporters on the day of his arrest. At the rally demonstrators gathered waving the flags of Enkhbayar’s political party, chanting, “Free him”!

Many offices located near Sukhbaatar, including Central Tower and the the Blue Sky Building, asked their workers to leave early on Friday.

One person in attendance, Ulzii Bud, was one of the original supporters of Mongolia’s 1991 protests, where citizens demanded a democratic government.

This year Mongolians will vote in parliamentary elections. Many voters have been swept up by populist sentiments, opposing foreign ownership of Mongolia’s land for mining.

“I’ll vote for whoever works to represent our rights and is honest—someone like Enkhbayar”, said Bud.

Nationalist undertones were also present, as much of Mongolia’s population fears foreign influences, especially from China. A recent proposal by Chinese aluminium producer Chalco to purchase up to a 60 percent interest in SouthGobi Resources, a coal miner with a project in Mongolia’s southern Gobi region, has many citizens upset.

“I’m here protesting for the independence of my country”, said Shinee Enkhtaiwan , a herder from Mongolia’s rural regions. “People are using my country and we’re running out of land because of the Chinese who come and take it away”.

“We’re running out of places to herd our animals to the miners”.

Political instability has many foreign investors wary about directing their money into Mongolian enterprises. Mongolian policy makers have been known to speak out and act against the interest of foreign companies to stir up populist support.