Mongolian politician re-elected despite Swiss fraud conviction

A polling station in Ulan Bator, June 2020. Keystone / Byambasuren Byamba-ochir

In June, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court convicted a Mongolian businessman and lawmaker of document fraud in the context of a major alleged corruption case. A year earlier, the lawmaker had urged the Bern justice authorities to censor a Gotham City article about the embarrassing legal proceedings.

This content was published on July 26, 2021 - 14:00
François Pilet, Gotham City

Borkhuu Delgersaikhan now sits in the Great State Khural, the Mongolian parliament, as if nothing happened in a courtroom 6,875 kilometres away. Some find that troubling.

“Borkhuu Delgersaikhan is now behaving as though he is a patriotic and innocent politician,” comments one Mongolian citizen*. The state of democracy in his country has deteriorated so badly in recent years that he declined to be identified by name.

Gotham City

Founded by investigative journalists Marie Maurisse and François Pilet, Gotham CityExternal link is a newsletter focusing on legal oversight and economic crime.

Each week Gotham offers subscribers reports about fraud, corruption and laundering cases linked to the Swiss financial sector, based on publicly accessible legal documents.

Each month, it selects one of its articles, which it then expands and offers free of charge to SWI readers.

End of insertion

Delgersaikhan was the target of investigations by the federal prosecutor dating back to 2016. He was suspected of paying bribes to Sangajav Bayartsogt, Mongolia’s former finance minister, in connection with the tender process for a mining contract.

$45 million at UBS

As the then-boss of the mining company Boldtumur Eruu Vol LLC, Delgersaikhan received $45 million (CHF42 million) in 2007 and 2008 in his personal account at the Swiss bank UBS in Zurich from the Chinese businessman Xiaoming Li to finance mining activities.

Delgersaikhan paid $5 million of this to Bayartsogt at an account at Credit Suisse.

博尔库乌·德尔格塞克汗(Borkhuu Delgersaikhan)

The affair came to light in 2013: the “Offshore Leaks” revealed the existence of the minister’s Swiss accounts. It was not until three years later that Credit Suisse decided to report its customers to the Money Laundering Reporting Office, which led to the opening of a federal investigation against the former minister and his businessman friend.

In March 2018, the Federal Court confirmed the seizure of $1.85 million in Delgersaikhan’s UBS account, according to a report in Gotham City.

While the Swiss investigations were ongoing, Bayartsogt also faced criminal charges in Mongolia. The status of the legal proceedings against him in Ulan Bator is unclear.

Censor attempt

This affair didn’t prevent the two men from standing as candidates again in the Mongolian parliamentary elections on June 24, 2020. Delgersaikhan in particular made every attempt to hush up the affair. The problem, however, was that the Swiss prosecutor’s investigations were making progress and threatened to end just months before the elections.

In April 2020, the prosecutor issued a penalty order against Delgersaikhan for forgery. The accused lodged an appeal immediately, which forced a ruling by the Federal Criminal Court.

On June 19, 2020, five days before the Mongolian elections, Delgersaikhan filed an application for provisional measures to ban SWI from publishing a Gotham City article about the case.

Delgersaikhan’s Zurich lawyer pushed for the identity of his client to be left out of the article, saying not even his initials should be publishing. “There is no overwhelming public interest that would justify such a publication,” the lawyer said in his application.

“This information does not warrant a legitimate need to inform the public. Even the right to freedom of opinion doesn’t justify such a flagrant violation of personal integrity.”

The court rejected the application, recognising the public interest in the criminal proceedings against the Mongolian politician.

Re-election in 2020

The article appeared on SWI on the eve of the election, translated into five languages. The next day, Delgersaikhan won re-election as the representative of the province of Ostgobi.

“Immediately after the publication, as people started to rebel, Delgersaikhan gave a press conference to say that all these stories were lies,” said the Mongolian citizen. “That is why the publication of the Swiss judgment is very important.”

In its judgment of June 11, 2021, the Federal Criminal Court found Delgersaikhan guilty of document fraud. He had made his personal account available to receive $45 million – money that belonged to the company Boldtumur.

Regarding the charges of corruption and money-laundering against the businessman, the Swiss attorney general holds the view that these accusations cannot be followed up and have to be dropped. Moreover, his office released a part of the $1.85 million it seized earlier.

The elected representative of the Great State Khural receive a suspended fine of CHF300,000 ($327,000) and was ordered to pay court costs of CHF 31,000. This sum was deducted from the $1.85 million at UBS. The rest was paid back to him. His Swiss lawyer didn’t respond to our questions.

On June 10, 2020, two weeks before the elections, the Swiss prosecutor also issued a penalty order against Bayartsogt, accusing him of document fraud. He didn’t appeal and he was not re-elected.

*Name withheld by editors

Translated from German by Cathy Hickley; edited by Dominique Soguel-dit-Picard

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