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Rio Tinto sets up new exploration office in Mongolia
[MELBOURNE] Rio Tinto will set up a new office in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, separate from its Oyu Tolgoi mine division, to focus on exploration and building local ties.
The new office, which will expand to 80 staff this year, will support the company's exploration programme and local services units, as well as focus on growing relationships, the miner said in a statement on Monday.
"We are demonstrating the deepening of our commitment to Mongolia through the establishment of a new country office under new Mongolian leadership," Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said.
"Mongolia is one of Rio Tinto's most strategically important markets and we are here to stay," Mr Jacques said, adding that Rio had invested more than US$7 billion in Mongolia since 2010, including salaries, supplier payments, and taxes and royalties.
Rio Tinto operates the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine, which is jointly owned by the government of Mongolia, with 34 per cent, and Turquoise Hill Resources with 66 percent.
Turquoise Hill is in turn 51 per cent-owned by Rio Tinto.
Earlier this month Oyu Tolgoi said it was evaluating a bill for about US$155 million from Mongolia's tax authority following an audit of payments made between 2013 and 2015.
The mine was also raided by Mongolian immigration officials earlier in January. A majority of 44 visas that were checked were found to be in breach of rules, a source with knowledge of the matter said.
A Rio Tinto spokesman said the workers were employed by Australian engineering firm Hofmann Engineering and those with an incorrect visa had been asked to leave the country. Hofmann Engineering was not immediately available for comment.
Relations between the Mongolian government and Rio Tinto soured in 2013 during a dispute over costs and taxes related to a proposed expansion of Oyu Tolgoi. The matter was finally resolved in 2015.
However, Bontoi Munkhdul, chief executive officer of Mongolia-based Market intelligence group Cover Mongolia, said the latest issues appeared unrelated.
"They're two different incidents that happened at the same time. Immigration and tax authorities were doing their jobs," he said.