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Rio Tinto mulls US$1B investment in Mongolia for Oyu Tolgoi's power plant

Rio Tinto is mulling a US$1 billion investment in Mongolia to build a 450 MW power plant for its Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine, The Australian reported March 19.

The company will make a construction decision for the coal-fired power plant in 2019, according to Jeff Tygesen, CEO of Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd., in which Rio Tinto owns a 51% stake.

The management of the Oyu Tolgoi mine, owned 66% by Turquoise Hill, is considering alternative power supply options for the operation as the proposed power plant at the nearby Tavan Tolgoi coal mine is not likely to be completed in time.

Rio Tinto started seeking a new power plan for Oyu Tolgoi after the Mongolian government canceled a power sector cooperation deal with the mining giant in February. The government, however, still wants the company to source power locally, in accordance with the canceled deal, and has given the company four years to deliver a domestic power source for the operation.

Rio Tinto previously said that it has earmarked US$250 million per year for the development of a power station in Mongolia in its 2019 and 2020 CapEx forecasts.

Tygesen said that the company is reviewing plans for a coal-fired plant that it started working on about five years ago.

Switzerland's Swiss Federal Tribunal recently upheld a decision to seize US$1.9 million in Swiss bank accounts as part of an ongoing corruption probe tied to former Mongolian Finance Minister Bayartsogt Sangajav. The seized accounts were allegedly used to transfer about US$10 million to the former minister, who was instrumental in clearing the way for the Oyu Tolgoi operation.

Meanwhile, Oyu Tolgoi LLC filed a notice of dispute after the Mongolian Tax Authority delivered a US$155 million tax assessment concerning an audit on taxes levied and paid between 2013 and 2015.