Tony Blair makes ‘secret visit’ to Mongolia to ‘help corrupt government plan gold mine which could destroy ancient graves of Attila the Hun’s ancestors’
The former premier made an unannounced visit to Ulaanbataar last month in his capacity as a consultant to the cash-strapped government, which is dogged by allegations of endemic corruption.
He met new Mongolian prime minister Chimed Saikhanbileg but the secrecy surrounding his trip stoked fears from ecologists and the opposition that he is being deployed to encourage Western investment to the country to massively increase gold, copper and coal mining, despite acute environmental worries.
Specifically, there is concern over plans for development of the sacred pine-covered Noyon Uul region around 65 miles north of Ulaanbaatar which has £1.2 billion gold reserves but is dotted with the burial mounds of the rulers of the ancient Hun civilisation, dating back to the first century BC.
‘Tony Blair probably came to us because the strategic deposits in the mountain Noyon Uul are the centre of attention,’ reported local news source 24 Tsag.mn, citing official sources.
The news outlet – which claimed Blair had flown ‘secretly’ to Mongolia last week – also speculated he was advising on another controversial project, involving expansion of multinational Rio Tinto’s Oyu Tolgoi mine in the Gobi Desert, and a possible bailout from the IMF.
Atilla was a feared fifth century barbarian warrior who ruled the Hunnic Empire from the Urals to the Rhine. He was born in modern-day Hungary, but his fearsome forebears are seen as originating much further east, in Mongolia.
Activists from ecological pressure groups including Save Noyon Uul have protested to the government that plans for a foreign mining company to exploit gold reserves ‘will destroy the historical monuments of the Mongols and their ancestors.
‘Driven to despair, they promised that if the Mongolian government allows mining in the sacred land of the Mongols, its defenders are ready to give their lives to save Noyon Uul’, said one report last week.
The Mongolian premier – who recruited Blair to Mongolia two years ago when he held the position of cabinet minister – is seen as the leading advocate of the plan to boost mining in several regions, including Noyon Uul, where Canadian company Centerra Gold may be given the go-ahead to exploit significant reserves.
He lunched with the former Labour Party leader after he held a ‘text message referendum’, dismissed as a cheap gimmick by foes, aimed at garnering support for new mining to boost the flagging economy.
The country’s president Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj has ‘a strong stance against mining of Noyen Uul and wants to leave the cultural heritage site intact’, evidently contrary to the position of his prime minister, it was reported.
There was no mention of the Mongolian trip on the official website of The Office of Tony Blair, nor any comment from the Ulaanbaatar government on whether his work includes advice on exploiting 50 tons of gold reserves.
But Mongolia is under severe pressure to raise revenue from mining to head off an economic crisis after foreign investment slumped 74 per cent last year, with speculation also centering on Tavan Tolgoi, one of the world’s largest untapped coal deposits in the South Gobi Desert.
Tony Blair Associates one year ago hired Anand Pillai, formerly an adviser to Rio Tinto in Mongolia.
Noted Russian scientist Natalia Polosmak – who has made sensational archeological discoveries at Noyon Uul – said: ‘This was the burial ground of the Hun elite.
‘The site dates from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD and contain up to 200 burial mounds.
‘The collection of fabrics that we found there is unique.’
Among the precious finds were elaborate chariots buried with Hun warlords, unique fabrics, ancient jewellery, plaques decorated in silver and gold, and carvings of fantastical creatures.
A spokesperson from Mr Blair’s office said: ‘Tony Blair regularly visits Mongolia as part of his project there – which is already in the public domain – and has a full time team working on helping the government with its reform programme.
‘He has nothing whatever to do with any gold mining business or other mining there so we don’t know what is being referred to.’
A spokesman for Centerra Gold, referring to the company’s Gatsuurt mine in the Noyon Uul region, said: ‘Our Gatsuurt property has been designated as a deposit of strategic importance.
‘We are continuing to work with the government to determine the level of Mongolian ownership in the project and before Gatsuurt can proceed. We need a deposit development agreement and the necessary permits, approvals and regulatory commissioning.
‘We are aware of Mr Blair but not the details of his involvement with the government.’
By WILL STEWART