ULAN BATOR, Mongolia — Mongolia's anti-corruption agency is investigating the recently resigned commander of the Mongolian air force for attempting to sell the engines and other parts of old Russian-made jet fighters to North Korea.
Investigators this week confirmed the probe, which had been ongoing, against Brig. Gen. Tojoon Dashdeleg and two private businessmen. The deal to sell the engines and scrap from about 20 disused MiG-21 fighters for $1.5 million dated from 2011. It resurfaced in November when a North Korean envoy complained to Mongolian officials that Pyongyang had paid but never received the parts.
E. Amarbat, the head of the investigative department of the Independent Agency Against Corruption, told reporters Thursday that the general and the businessmen have returned about half the money to North Korea. "However, this does not mean they will receive reduced sentences," Amarbat said at a news conference. He did not elaborate on the possible sentences.
The disputed deal highlights landlocked, democratic Mongolia's role as one of totalitarian, hermetic North Korea's few conduits to the outside world. Close relations date from when both were Soviet allies. During the Korean War, Mongolia supplied horses and food to the North Korean side, and still sends food assistance, mostly livestock. About 5,000 North Koreans work in Mongolia, mostly in construction, farming and textiles, providing needed labor in a manpower-short economy.
It was when Mongolia was hosting diplomatic talks between Japan and North Korea in the capital of Ulan Bator in November that the MiG deal came to the attention of the Mongolian government. According to Mongolian media reports, North Korean envoy Song Il Ho told Mongolian officials, "We want our money back."
Selling the engines and scrap apparently violated a 1979 agreement which prohibited Mongolia from selling or transferring Soviet-made military equipment or hardware to any third country without obtaining approval from the Soviet armed forces. Russian security services refused to give permission for the transfer, but the engines and scrap were shipped to North Korea by way of China but never arrived, Mongolian media reported.
After learning of the investigation earlier this year, Dashdeleg hastily submitted a request to retire and resigned from his position.