Suspicions of political manoeuvring behind the arrest of chief Mongolian spy
By Riccardo M. Ghia
Who is really behind the arrest of the chief Mongolian spy?
Last September, the UK authorities arrested Bat Khurts, the top Mongolian counterterrorism officer, at London’s Heathrow airport under a European Arrest Warrant issued by German authorities.
However, it’s unclear why the British government endangered its deepening relationships with a country that is increasingly important to the UK national interests.
Mongolia is a country rich with a variety of minerals, from gold to uranium, and its economy is growing fast. Its geopolitical position – the country is sandwiched between Russia and China – also makes Mongolia a crucial asset in influencing the balance of power in Asia.
THE DAMIRAN CASE
Khurts, 41, is accused of illegal rendition of a Mongolian refugee, Enkhbat Damiran, who was kidnapped in France and driven to Berlin in 2003. Khurts allegedly drugged Damiran and flew him back to Mongolia.
Damiran, who has since died, was wanted in connection with the murder of Mongolian minister Zorig Sanjasuuren. London-based NGO Amnesty International said that Damiran was tortured and denied access to vital hospital treatment. Lodoisambuu Sanjaasuren, Damiran’s lawyer, was sent to a “restricted prison” outside the city of Ulaanbaatar in 2004. He has been convicted of exposing state secrets because he helped Damiran to speak on television revealing the details of his kidnap and torture by the General Intelligence Agency (GIA).
Sanjaasuren was freed in August 2005 after having served half of his sentence. Amnesty International considered him to be a prisoner of conscience as he was arrested simply for protecting the rights of his client.
WHAT IS AT STAKE
Now Khurts risks being handed over to German authorities.
According to Khurts’ defense attorneys, British authorities lured their client to London with the excuse of discussing security issues. The Foreign Office has denied any formal meetings were arranged for Khurts’ seven-day trip.
The court will rule on his extradition on the 18th February.
DIPLOMATIC WAR OR SECRET DEAL?
Last January, The Independent reported that diplomatic ties between Mongolia and the UK are strained as a result of Khurts’ arrest. The recent reshuffle in the UK embassy seems to substantiate the newspaper’s claim. Thorhilda Mary Vivia Abbott-Watt has replaced William Dickson as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Mongolia.
Dickson, who is claimed by Mr Khurts to have enthusiastically offered to set up meetings in Whitehall, has been recalled to London for “operational reasons”.
Furthermore, the Mongolian Prime Minister, Sukhbaataryn Batbold, abruptly cancelled a trip to Britain last November.
However, it seems that British economic interests at stake have emerged almost unscathed. Last January, the London Stock Exchange signed an agreement with the Mongolian State Property Committee to restructure and develop the Mongolian Stock Exchange.
A few days later, the Mongolian police sent officers to the UK for training purposes.
There has been speculation that some officials in the Mongolian government might have been involved in setting up Khurts, who wielded considerable political power.
The spy played an important role in Mongolia’s National Security Council, which has the final decision on all major legislation in the country.
A source with ties with the Mongolian government, who has spoken to Sain Bainuu under condition of anonymity, has said that domestic political manoeuvring might explain why UK authorities arrested Khurts.