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Mongolian spy invited to Britain, arrested at airport

A Mongolian spymaster thought he was coming to Britain for diplomatic and security talks. But instead, he was whisked away upon landing at Heathrow airport and jailed for torture and kidnapping.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Mongolian spymaster thought he was coming to Britain for diplomatic and security talks. But instead, he was whisked away upon landing at Heathrow airport and jailed for torture and kidnapping.

Bat Khurts, head of Mongolia's counterterrorism unit, was arrested by Scotland Yard detectives on a German warrant for allegedly arranging the kidnapping of a Mongolian refugee, Britain's Foreign Office said Friday. It was the first time that authorities had confirmed the arrest, which took place last month.

Khurts and three other special agents are accused of abducting the refugee, known by the single name Enkhbat. The man was allegedly kidnapped in 2003 in France and then returned to Mongolia where he was tortured and later died from chronic liver disease. Khurts has been accused of using his diplomatic cover and Mongolian missions in Germany and France to hide from justice.

Enkhbat had been suspected in the murder of Zorigt Sanjaasuren, a prominent Mongolian politician and government minister killed in 1998.

According to a British attorney who has seen the court documents but spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not involved in the case, then-prime minister Enkhbayar Nambar, who later became president, allegedly ordered the Mongolian intelligence service to carry out the kidnapping.

Enkhbat was allegedly driven across France to the Mongolian consulate in Brussels and on to Germany before being sent back to Mongolia, according to the attorney.

German prosecutors issued a European arrest warrant for Khurts in 2006.

The Mongolian government concedes Khurts actions were illegal but argues he was traveling with a diplomatic passport — diplomats are normally shielded from prosecution when traveling abroad. But under European arrest warrants, police are obligated to arrest the suspect, who must then prove they have diplomatic immunity.

The process is different from universal jurisdiction, a concept in international law that allows judges to issue warrants for nearly any visitor accused of grievous crimes, no matter where they live. British judges have been more open to the concept than those in other countries but the director of public prosecutions and police have more oversight in deciding whether to go through with an arrest.

Mongolia's Minister of Justice and Home Affairs Nyamdorj Tsend has sent an official letter to the British Foreign Office demanding Khurts' immediate release.

Deputy Premier Enkhbold Miegombo has also petitioned the British Justice Ministry, saying Khurts should be given diplomatic immunity.

"The arrest in no way amounts to a diplomatic or political statement by the British government," Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement on Friday. "The judicial authorities, which are wholly independent of government, are carrying out their independent legal functions in accordance with the law."

According to Mongolian media, Khurts has appeared in court three times since his arrest and imprisonment in Wandsworth prison. His next hearing is on Nov. 15.

Meanwhile, Mongolia's Foreign Ministry sent an official note of apology to the governments of France, Belgium and Germany, asking them not to press for Khurts' extradition, though it did not deny the charges.

"It was an illegal decision and action to kidnap and bring the person from Europe under diplomatic cover and in violation of international laws and treaties," said ministry spokesman, Monkhoon, who also uses just one name.

Enkhbat's former lawyer, Sanjaasuren, was quoted by Mongolian media on Friday saying his client had been tortured into confessing to a crime he did not commit. Sanjaasuren said he himself had been jailed for nine months on the charge of revealing state secrets merely for the act of protesting Enkhbat's abduction and torture.