'Stressed but strong': lawyer detained in Mongolia fears she won't be home until Christmas
The parents of lawyer Sarah Armstrong, who has been detained in Mongolia after being caught up in a corruption investigation, just want their daughter back.
Authorities stopped 32-year-old Ms Armstrong from boarding a flight to Hong Kong, where she is based, on Friday to seek her help over a case involving allegations of money laundering and corruption.
The claims reportedly relate to senior local officials and hundreds of millions of dollars in mining assets.
Stuck in Mongolia ... Sarah Armstrong
Yvonne and Les Armstrong spoke to The Advocate from their Rosebery home this morning.
"I just want her to get out safely,'' Mrs Armstrong said.
She is talking to Sarah ever day and said her daughter is in reasonably good spirits considering the circumstances.
The last time the couple saw their 32-year-old daughter was on September 20, when Sarah made a surprise visit home for her mum's birthday.
Mrs Armstrong received a call from the Foreign Affairs department this morning.
"They are doing what they can to support her,'' she said.
Mongolian authorities are expected to interview Ms Armstrong - who is the chief legal counsel for SouthGobi Resources, majority-owned by Rio Tinto - again today.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the Australian Consul-General to Mongolia, David Lawson, would accompany Ms Armstrong to the second round of questioning.
"She hasn't been detained, she hasn't been arrested, her passport hasn't been taken from her," Senator Carr told ABC Radio this morning.
He said he had not been advised about any allegations against Ms Armstrong, and it was a complex matter between the company she works for, the resources authority of Mongolia and its anti-corruption authority.
Senator Carr said he expected the issue to be resolved quickly.
Ms Armstrong's mother Yvonne was too emotional to speak from the family's home in the mining town of Rosebery, Tasmania, this morning.
Her Sydney-based friend Luke Dean, who grew up in the same neighbourhood as Ms Armstrong, said she sounded stressed but strong in phone calls since Friday.
"Talking to Sarah throughout this, she hasn't broken down on the phone to me yet, but I can tell in her voice that it is quite straining," Mr Dean said.
"I think this is the worst it's ever been.
"Obviously the situation is extremely stressful and she's on high alert. She's got 24-hour bodyguards at the moment.
"She's not detained by the anti-corruption police, but she's certainly been told that she can't leave the country and she's basically waiting for her second round of questioning."
Mr Dean said Ms Armstrong's family had been coping well, but the situation was starting to take its toll and they hoped for a resolution soon.
"We all just hope that she gets home safely and sooner rather than later.
"In the initial round [of questioning], I think she was advised she might not be home before Christmas, which hopefully doesn't happen."
Ms Armstrong has been working with the company for two-and-a-half years and had been based overseas for about five years.
"Sarah is very driven. The situation in Mongolia is always quite tense," Mr Dean said.
"When she's in Mongolia there's always bodyguards and stuff like that, so it's not a light-hearted job.
"She's speaks four languages. She's a very driven individual."
A source close to SouthGobi Resources told The West Australian allegations that Ms Armstrong had knowledge of bribery and tax evasion were baseless.
The source claimed Ms Armstrong was questioned as retaliation for separate allegations of corruption and bribery she made against Mongolian officials months ago.
Senator Carr refused to comment on those claims.
The foreign minister was in Mongolia a month ago to open the new Australian consulate, and said there were no indications of trouble brewing while he was there.
"Australia's got big investments there, we're the biggest investor in mining," Senator Carr said.
"Our relationship with Mongolia is very good."
- with Burnie Advocate, AAP and Nicole Hasham