Elk River, Minn. man sentenced to prison in Mongolia for tax evasion

A man who used to call Minnesota home is now facing several years in a Mongolian prison for tax evasion while his family fights to get him out.

"I think my son's innocent and I don't think he should be in jail and I think he should be free to leave the country," Justin Kapla's father Bill Kapla said.

After watching Justin Kapla grow up in Elk River, it's hard for his father and brother to imagine him sitting in a jail in a third world country halfway around the world. Kapla moved to Mongolia, sandwiched between Russia and China, over a decade ago to become an executive for a coal mining company, SouthGobi Resources, Ltd. He fell in love with both the country and one of the locals, and he and his wife Solongo have two children. But soon after a visit back to Elk River two years ago, Mongolia wouldn't let Kapla leave the country again because the company he worked for was under investigation for tax evasion.

"The thing about my brother is he's the most honest person," his brother Josh Kapla said. "We just couldn't believe the charges against him because that's not who he is."

Kapla wasn't working for SouthGobi when the prosecutors claim the tax evasion took place, and two other trials against him were dismissed for lack of evidence. Last Friday, Kapla and two co-workers were found guilty and sentenced to 5 to 6 years in prison on what his family says are trumped up charges. His lawyer told the family their son and brother is safe, but they just wish he'd get home.

A recent post on a Facebook page administered by a family friend said the following:

"I talked with Sue today, Justine's mom. She said Justin's wife was able to visit. She brought him warm clothes and some personal items. Justin also got a message to Sue stating he is fine and currently working on a plan to keep his family safe. He's trying to set up a financial plan to make sure they are ok in case he does not get out in the near future. He has a great team of lawyers and friends in Mongolia that are working hard to get him released. He also relayed that he thinks the US is working on helping him. Please keep emailing our Politicians to ask for there help. The politicians work for us and we do need their help in this case. Sue gives a HUGE thanks to all of you for your emails and help. Sue is working diligently behind the scenes. As I said before, she is not a social media person. I love this family so much, and we need help from all of you through social media to spread the word. Thank you so much and God Bless."

Statement from Sen. Al Franken

"I can only imagine what a difficult time this is for Justin and his family. My office has been working on this case for more than two years, and we've contacted the US consulate in Mongolia, the Mongolian Ambassador to the United States, the Mongolian Prosecutor General, and Secretary of State John Kerry —all in the hopes of helping Justin to be able to leave Mongolia and see his family in Minnesota. I will continue to work with the State Department on this and will consider every possible action that may be helpful to Justin and his family."

'Free Justin Kapla'

Kapla's loved ones have set up a Free Justin Facebook page in hopes of putting pressure on Washington to help. In the meantime, they pray for the day he makes Minnesota his home on a permanent basis.

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