Investigations by Swiss prosecutors into alleged bribery payments tied to approval for the Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine in Mongolia are probing Rio Tinto's involvement in addition to former Mongolian Finance Minister Bayartsogt Sangajav, Reuters reported March 22, citing an emailed statement from Switzerland's Office of the Attorney General.
The Mongolian government requested legal assistance with the case in 2017, which was granted by the Swiss authority.
According to a previous report by Reuters, court documents referred to the mining property but did not name Rio Tinto or Sangajav, who signed the investment deal giving control over Oyu Tolgoi to Ivanhoe Mines, which later became Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. Rio Tinto holds an interest in Oyu Tolgoi through its 50.8% stake in Turquoise Hill, which owns 66% of Oyu Tolgoi.
The Swiss Federal Tribunal recently upheld a decision to seize US$1.9 million in Swiss bank accounts tied to Sangajav. He said he expects an acquittal in the ongoing probe into whether he received US$10 million through Swiss bank accounts in September 2008, the month he became minister.
Sangajav said an investor gave the money to support his business, but he declined to name the investor, Reuters reported.
Mongolia's anti-corruption agency is also working with the Swiss authorities in the investigation.
Mongolian politicians are calling for a review of the 2009 deal. Deputy Mining Minister Zagdjav Deleg said the agreement needs to be revised if the corruption allegations are proven.
Rio Tinto is considering a US$1 billion investment to build a 450-MW power plant for Oyu Tolgoi as an alternative power supply option.
The mining giant started seeking a new power plan for Oyu Tolgoi after the Mongolian government canceled a power-sector cooperation deal with the company in February.