Former Mongolia president detained for polls ploy - lawyer

ULAN BATOR Mon May 7, 2012 10:13am BST

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ULAN BATOR May 7 (Reuters) - A lawyer for Mongolia's arrested former president, Nambar Enkhbayar, has accused the government of waging a politically motivated campaign against him in order to stop him contesting parliamentary elections in June.

Nambar Enkhbayar, arrested on April 13 as prosecutors began investigating charges of corruption, served as president from 2004 to 2009 and heads the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP), an important participant in next month's vote.

Foreign investors are waiting to see how the arrest will affect the elections, with legislators considering a series of contentious new mining policies as well as the fate of the $6-billion Tavan Tolgoi coal mine near the Chinese border.

Enkhbayar's MPRP was expected to erode the support of the ruling Mongolian People's Party (MPP) in the vote, and his lawyer, Oktober Basankhuu, said the detention - likely to last until after the June 28 poll - was designed to remove him and his party from the contest.

"The whole purpose of his detention is not to corroborate the investigation," said Basankhuu.

"It's clearly to imprison and isolate him. They decided the outcome long ago," Basankhuu said, referring to Enkhbayar's political enemies.

The investigation office of Mongolia's anti-corruption agency declined to comment.

Mongolia's tiny economy is set grow at record rates over the next decade as the government cashes in on big and mostly untapped deposits of coal, copper, gold and uranium.

But investors have expressed concern about the resilience of its democracy and the strength of its legal system.

Populism and "resource nationalism" ahead of the election have caused alarm, with parliamentarians calling for deals to be renegotiated and for "strategic resources" to be taken over by the state.

Last year, nationalists in parliament failed to persuade the government to renegotiate a landmark 2009 agreement that granted Canada's Ivanhoe Mines a 66 percent stake in the giant Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine.

Trying to placate growing unease about the way mines are being sold to foreign companies, Mongolia has also said it would review the licenses of Canadian coal miner SouthGobi Resources after its parent, Ivanhoe, said it would sell up to Chinese aluminium giant Chalco.

Opinion polls suggest that Enkhbayar's arrest has merely compounded the uncertainty ahead of the vote, said Luvsandendev Sumati, a pollster with the Sant Maral Foundation in Ulan Bator.

"More than half of the respondents are undecided. The arrest has just increased their numbers," he said. (Reporting by Terrence Edwards; Editing by David Stanway and Robert Birsel)

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