Between Jade and Ruby: Myanmar’s Military Business Octopus

Suara.com – It is believed that the Myanmar military business empire is overwhelming, from mining to tourism. Following last week’s coup, the US imposed economic sanctions, which panicked foreign companies because they had too little to do business.

Mining, banking, energy, agriculture or even tourism: the Myanmar military or the Tatmadaw have tirelessly accumulated wealth through its business networks.

But now, this wealth has become the target of a US economic embargo following the coup against Myanmar’s civilian government on February 1.

Thursday (11/2), President Joe Biden froze Tatmadaw assets worth USD 1 billion in the United States.

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Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance blocked any US assets or transactions with 10 top military officers deemed to have masterminded the coup.

However, the Myanmar military junta is believed to still be able to access its reserves of wealth through conglomerate networks at home and abroad, reported the anti-corruption group Justice for Myanmar (JFM).

Through two business groups, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), the generals control or supervise at least 133 companies, according to JFM records.

The two groups oversees a variety of business units, from beer producers, tobacco plantations, transportation and logistics, textile factories, hotels or banks.

The military is also believed to have been involved in the illicit business of trading in precious stones. The two commodities most highlighted were jade and rubies.

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Myanmar is the world’s largest jade producer. The trade of the two precious stones is estimated to be worth billions of US dollars each year.

However, only a small proportion of transactions are officially registered. The rest are believed to be smuggled into China.

Corruption through corporations

According to the NGO Global Witness, since 2001 Myanmar’s jade industry has been “under the control of a network of elite military, drug dealers and their cronies.”

Currently, the company that has the largest mining permit for jade is Myanmar Imperial Jade Co. Ltd. which is based on MEHL.

Thursday (11/2) the company was included in the list of US economic sanctions. MEHL maintains business relations with Chinese, Japanese, South Korean and Singaporean companies.

According to government records, MEHL’s board of directors and shareholders are mostly retired generals or active officers.

Between 1990 and 2011, MEHL was noted to have disbursed dividends worth USD 18 billion to shareholders, according to an Amnesty International report, last September 2020.

In 2011 alone, the head of the junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, was recorded as having received at least a profit of USD 250,000 or around IDR 3.5 billion.

During nearly half a century in power, “the top brass have had plenty of time to enrich themselves,” said Francoise Nicolas, director of the Asia Institute of International Relations, a French think tank.

The process of democratization and restoration of civil power in 2011 did not really disturb the Tatmadaw business empire, Amnesty reports.

But Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory, which won more than 80% of the votes in the general election last November, shook military rule, said Francoise.

“This victory threatens some of their wealth, and may have informed the decision to stage a coup.”

In the aftermath of the coup, the military reportedly strengthened its control over state companies, including the oil and gas sector that is considered wetlands.

Stop foreign investment

This puts foreign companies in a complicated position. But so far only Japanese beer company Kirin and Singaporean energy company Puma have declared their departure from Myanmar after the coup.

Meanwhile, French oil giant Total, which owns 31.24% of the Yadana gas field in Myanmar, said it was still studying the effects of the coup.

In 2019, Total paid USD 257 million to the Myanmar government.

“We urge oil and gas companies to end their relations with Myanmar’s oil and gas companies and leave our country,” said Yadanar Maung, spokesman for Justice for Myanmar.

The same thing was expressed by Debbie Stothard from the human rights organization, Federation for Human Rights. Especially Singapore as Myanmar’s biggest investor “has high bargaining value” to double international pressure on the military junta.

“A number of Tatmadaw officials have invested heavily in Singapore since the mid-2000s.

This trend has been strengthening since the last few years, ”he said.

If the military really intends to protect its wealth through a coup, then terminating business relations with Myanmar is even more urgent, said Yadanar Maungh.

“There are firm steps, the military will continue to commit acts of violence against the people and democracy will have no hope. rzn / hp (afp, rtr, theirrawady)


Source: Suara.com – Kumpulan Kabar Berita Terkini Yang Terbaru Hari Ini by www.suara.com.

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