…Getting something for your relatives using your friends in government is a usual thing in Mongolia. What’s wrong about asking a favor from your friends whom you helped to be appointed in those positions?
This was the main argument that one of the highest titled, state honored lawyers, Narangerel, uttered in defense of former President Enkhbayar Nambar during a three-day trial of political corruption that took place in Ulaanbaatar on July 30, 31 and August 1, 2012.
The trial was widely televised providing an opportunity for the public to see and hear the arguments of both the prosecution and defense. For those who imagined a court hearing from a Hollywood movie, the trial may have seemed rather slow and boring. In the civil law tradition, Mongolia doesn’t have jury. The main decision makers are three judges who are obliged to carefully read the case before the trial. The judges decide both issues of law and fact. The civil legal tradition is followed in the nations of continental Europe, Japan, Korea and many other countries around the world.
The court trial doesn’t explain everything at the outset. Connecting the dots is easiest for those who are already familiar with civil law procedures and the papers inside the thick folders. However, the Mongolian public was interested in knowing even those small dots of Enkhbayar’s case to understand how political corruption occurred in Mongolia.
Many of the foreign journalists observing the trial seemed to capture only occasional statements of lawyers and individuals when there was some kind of debate.
During such debates, the most common words Mr.Enkhbayar used was “I didn’t do it” or “ask them, not me”—meaning that those who benefited from the questionable privatization of state owned old buildings in lucrative locations, or preferential contracts with mining corporations, etc., were not Enkhbayar himself, but his son and his sister. However, all those companies which initially got the state buildings became daughter companies of Enkhbayar’s own company after the “dirty jobs” were already made. Enkhbayar looked clean, according to this scheme, his defense strongly argued.
Three days of televised debate opened up stories of many political corruption tricks and tricky decision-making routes in which a politician could argue that he was “clean” while the evidence of unexplained wealth of his family members was growing on the public’s eyes.
The Mongolian public watched this interesting court trial with considerable excitement, not because they wanted the worst for Enkhbayar, but because it was quite educational. It was like a free class in law and procedure, and a lesson how and why a politician can be charged of crimes he influenced to happen. It was a trial of political corruption, but not just a hearing on wrongful conversion of property. Ordinary thieves would be convicted and sentenced to ten years for the theft of 700 dollars. But political corruption is often first suspected by evidence of unexplained wealth or illegally obtained wealth. This defendant was sentenced to just four years imprisonment for a seventy million dollar crime.
“His sentence was too soft,” was the most common reaction of Mongolians interviewed in the country’s main newspapers and websites by the morning of August 2, 2012. The reactions on twitter were the same.
“Enkhbayar’s lawyer seems to agree that his client did political corruption, but argued that these wrongdoings were okay in Mongolia. This argument is too valueless,” a young woman tweeted immediately after the televised statement of lawyer Narangerel.
One might wonder how important such a tweet was. Well, Mongolia is in first place in the number of tweeting in support of its Olympics team according to web page http://www.london2012.com/countries/supportyourteam/
There are 204 countries listed in the web and USA ranks second after Mongolia tops the list with over 300,000 tweets. This makes them far ahead from the third country which has nearly 14,000 tweets.
So, international journalists could use Mongolian tweeters as a good source of timely information and “see” the mood of the Mongolian public via it.
In past, there was quite an awkward embarrassment of a Beijing-based reporter of a very prestigious magazine. After he was blasted in Mongolian media, he confessed to a Mongolian, off-the-record, that he made an under-researched sensational story on Mongolia from Beijing where he wasn’t able to access sources online. The accurate information on his article was all available on videos and photos on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and even by Googling the story he could have found many stories. Unfortunately, none of these media was available and uncensored in Beijing!
The lesson was, he confessed, “never to report on Mongolia’s controversy from Beijing, but rather to come to Mongolia, or search information on Mongolia from a freer country”.
The mood of the free and democratic Mongolian public on Enkhbayar’s case is very different than the poorly informed international outcries that occurred at the outset of the story. While the international press was still relying on their sources based in Beijing, the number of Mongolian tweets grew by hundreds and thousands each day.