Second Christmas Without Families For Executives In Mongolia
One American and two Philippine former executives of SouthGobi Resources, a coal mining company, remain under exits bans of 14, 18 and 18 months respectively. They are unable to leave Mongolia to see their families for Christmas for the second year in a row.
The government of Mongolia legislated this year to be welcoming to foreign investors after events during 2012, a national election year, created a sense of instability among foreign investors. A new Foreign Investment Law went into effect on November 1, 2013 and a new Securities Market Law will take effect January 1, 2014. Both laws target making Mongolia open, friendly and stable to foreign investors. However, the nation’s use of exit bans is among issues that still leave foreign investors concerned.
American Justin Kapla, and Philippine citizens Hilarion Cajucom Jr. and Cristobal David have lived under exit bans since mid-2012. They have been refused the right to travel outside of Mongolia during investigations into their former employer, SouthGobi Resources, a coal mining subsidiary of Turquoise Hill Resources and Rio Tinto.
The U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 2013 Mongolia Investment Climate Statement states:
Regularly reported since 2010, Mongolian public and private entities continue to abuse the exit visa system… Neither current law nor regulation establishes a clear process or time-table for settlement of such issues… the Mongolian government maintains the right to detain foreign citizens indefinitely without appeal…
New Zealand’s Chris Bradley, an employee of Standard Bank, had an exit ban from Mongolia this year concluded in less than one month. Australia’s Sarah Armstrong, as legal counsel to SouthGobi Resources, had her exit ban stemming from the same investigations as Messrs. Cajucom, David and Kapla, concluded in time for Christmas 2012.
Ambassador Erlinda F. Basilio of the Philippines Embassy in China sent a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Mongolia Lusanvandan Bold on November 29, 2013, saying: “It is my fervent hope that the investigation can be concluded so that Mr. Cajucom and Mr. David will be permitted to return to the Philippines this coming Christmas season.”
Mr. Cajucom was Finance Manager for SouthGobi from June 2011 until June 2012 and is currently unemployed. His sister Corazon Cabungcal is upset Mr. Cajucom cannot join his family this Christmas, “We don’t know why he can’t come home.” The family is having a reunion at Christmas for the first time in 30 years with “almost 100” family members. Mr. Cajucom’s and Ms. Cabungcal’s mother does not understand why her son does not visit according to Ms. Cabungcal. Their mother had triple by-pass surgery in 2010 and is in fragile health. Mr. Cajucom was denied permission to leave the country to attend the funeral of his father-in-law during his ongoing 18-month exit ban.
Mr. David has lived in Mongolia since January 2004. He first worked as Finance Director for Boroo Gold, a subsidiary of Centerra Gold Canada. He then worked for SouthGobi from August 2007 until September 2011. Now working at another coal mining company in Mongolia, he has been unable to travel outside of Mongolia during his ongoing 18-month exit ban even for emergency situations. Mr. David’s daughter, Maria Clarissa Joy V. David, indicates Mr. David’s absence has “been challenging for the whole family… dad always comes home for special events, Christmas, New Year’s, birthday celebrations.” She adds that the government of Mongolia denied Mr. David permission to leave in 2012 to help his parents when a typhoon struck their province of Tarlac. Another typhoon struck their province this year and Mr. David’s daughter says it is stressful both for Mr. David and his family that he is unable to come home in both times of need and in times of celebration. “We are just praying that nothing major happens that would really devastate him if he could not come home.”
Mr. Kapla, formerly President of SouthGobi Resources, now works for an iron ore company in Mongolia. During his ongoing 14-month exit ban, Mr. Kapla has not been able to visit his stepfather John Kostanshek despite a September 2013 letter from Mr. Kostanshek’s cardiologist indicating fragile health. Mr. Kapla’s mother, Mrs. Suzanne Kostanshek, said the family has received U.S. government support noting Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s office has been “most helpful” and the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia “has been really good.” She has not seen her grandchildren, ages 12 and 3, in a year and a half. “We wish Justin and his family could be home… we just want him to come home.”
The family’s three congressional representatives in Minnesota concur with this sentiment.
“Senator Franken and his staff have been working diligently on this case since first being contacted by Justin Kapla’s mother, Sue Kostanshek, last year,” said United States Senator Al Franken’s spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff.
Senator Franken’s office has been in constant communication with the State Department and has continually updated Mrs. Kostanshek with any new information they receive. Knowing how important family is, especially at this time of year, Senator Franken is sincerely sorry that Mr. Kapla will not be home for the holidays and will continue his efforts to resolve this unfortunate situation.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, also representing Mr. Kapla’s native Minnesota, said, “My office has been in close contact with the family as well as the Embassy in Mongolia. Mr. Kapla deserves to have this resolved as quickly as possible, and my office will continue to work with the family and diplomatic officials to move this case forward.”
Dan Kotman, spokesman for Congresswoman Michele Bachmann agrees, “Congresswoman Bachmann’s office has been in regular communication with the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia and we are actively seeking a lift of the travel ban for our constituent, Justin Kapla. Mr. Kapla has been denied the ability to leave Mongolia for the past 14 months and we are doing everything we can to help him and his family.”
In June of this year, the Economic Crimes Investigation division of the State Investigative Bureau of Mongolia (the local FBI equivalent), sent a proposal to the General Prosecutor’s Office of Mongolia stating evidence was lacking in the case against SouthGobi Resources, Messrs. Cajucom, David and Kapla. Government reaction to this document is unknown.
SouthGobi Resources spokesman Mr. Altanbagana said:
SouthGobi has been fully and proactively cooperating with Mongolian authorities to resolve this case in accordance with Mongolian law. After nearly two years of investigations, neither the company nor any employee, have been charged with any offenses. SouthGobi hopes Mongolian authorities will be able to resolve this case soon. SouthGobi continues to believe Mongolia can be a safe and profitable destination for foreign investments.
The Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice and General Prosecutor’s Office were contacted about this story. The Ministry of Justice acknowledged the letter from Ambassador Basilio and said regarding the SouthGobi case, “it’s still under investigation.” The Ministry of Justice referred case specific questions to the General Prosecutor’s Office who did not respond after contact via phone and e-mail.