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Mongolians protest over alleged theft of government funds

Hundreds of Mongolians protested in the capital Ulaanbaatar on Friday over the alleged theft of government funds deposited in offshore accounts.

Opposition politicians and civic society activities demanded the return of what some say is $17 billion in funds plundered by ruling party politicians and their influential friends.

They also called on the country’s parliament to establish a special investigation of offshore accounts and pass a law prohibiting public officials, politicians and their family members from holding offshore accounts.

Uyanga Gantomor, chairwoman of a minor opposition party, said there was money sitting in offshore accounts that had been stolen from Mongolians.

“These thieves stole from schools, kindergartens and from your children and from the happiness of your families,” she told the crowd in Ulaanbaatar’s central square. “If they bring their stolen money back to Mongolia, then we can forgive them.”

Former President Enkhbayar Nambar, who himself served time in prison for corruption, addressed the crowd of about 1,500 to 2,000 people. “Not everyone is perfect; I went wrong once,” he said. “For that, I have asked forgiveness. How about others ask for forgiveness also! Let’s bring the money hidden in offshore accounts and distribute it to the people,” he said to loud cheers.

Mongolia is in the midst of an economic crisis caused partly by a decline in prices for mineral exports.

More than 30 percent of the 3 million people in the landlocked country live in poverty, and many people are angry over an austerity plan that has hit the poor hardest.

One of the protest organizers, Batchuluun San, head of the People’s Emergency Council, a non-governmental organization that focuses on graft, said the protest was in response to the “Panama Papers” scandal last year in which thousands of pages of documents related to offshore accounts were leaked, including accounts of members of the Mongolian political and business elite.

“Today we have individuals in Mongolia who are richer than the state,” said Batchuluun. “We want the government to investigate politicians with offshore accounts based on these documents.”

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