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Mongolian police to quiz trapped lawyer
Mongolian police to quiz trapped lawyer

An Australian lawyer trapped in Mongolia was due to face her second interrogation by anti-corruption police last night as Australian consular officials tried to find out why she cannot leave the country.

Sarah Armstrong, 32, who works for a company controlled by Rio Tinto, was arrested on Friday as she tried to board a flight to her home in Hong Kong.

She was released without charge a few hours later but banned indefinitely from leaving the country.

_The West Australian _believes she is under 24-hour protection with bodyguards amid concerns for her safety.

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr said the consul-general to Mongolia, David Lawson, was expected to accompany Ms Armstrong to the second round of questioning.

"We are monitoring it closely as we would any similar circumstance," the spokesman said. "But it is very early on. "It only just happened, so it is not clear whether it is a short or lengthy situation. Obviously for the people concerned, we hope that it is short."

It is still unclear why Ms Armstrong, the chief legal counsel for mining giant SouthGobi Resources, which is majority owned by Rio Tinto, is being held in the country.

But the incident comes three months after she filed a notice for a SouthGobi affiliate that triggered international arbitration proceedings against the Mongolian Government.

Her notice alleged the Government attempted to seize several hundred million dollars worth of coal owned by SouthGobi Sands, the Mongolian operating company of SouthGobi Resources. It also alleged government corruption and requests for bribes.

A source close to the company said the move against Ms Armstrong was "retaliation" and allegations against her - including knowledge of bribery and tax evasion - were "baseless".

Ms Armstrong was to face questioning on Monday but Mongolian police postponed the session at the last minute until last night.

As Australian diplomats tried to secure her freedom yesterday, US consular officials worked to help one of Ms Armstrong's colleagues, Justin Kapla, president of SouthGobi Sands and a US-citizen, who is embroiled in the same allegations.

He was also barred from leaving Mongolia six months ago when detained as a designated witness in an inquiry into Mongolian Government official corruption.

Australia has only recently opened a consulate in Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar.

Senator Carr visited the country this month for bilateral talks against the backdrop of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Ms Armstrong has lived in Hong Kong since she began working for SouthGobi 2½ years ago.

Previously, she was corporate counsel for Xstrata Copper.

The West Australian

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