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BANGKOK: Mines, banks, petroleum, agriculture, tourism: Myanmar‘s ruling junta has vested pursuits in massive swathes of the nation’s economic system, offering it a colossal — and carefully guarded — fortune that the USA has targetted with sanctions.
After final week’s coup to oust civilian chief Aung San Suu Kyi — and the next protest crackdown — calls have grown for worldwide penalties.
On Thursday, the USA slapped sanctions on the nation’s prime brass.
President Joe Biden mentioned his administration was reducing off navy leaders’ entry to $1 billion in funds within the US, whereas the Treasury Division blocked any US property and transactions with 10 present or former navy officers held chargeable for the February 1 coup.
However specialists consider the military chiefs nonetheless have entry to huge wealth from the sprawling conglomerates behind them.
By means of two extremely secretive military-controlled behemoths — Myanmar Financial Holdings Restricted (MEHL) and the Myanmar Financial Company (MEC) — at the least 133 corporations within the nation are wholly or partially overseen by generals, in line with a report by Justice For Myanmar (JFM).
The opaque teams have their tentacles in industries as numerous as beer, tobacco, transportation, textiles, tourism and banking.
A lot of the profitable — and largely unregulated — jade and ruby commerce is managed by military-owned companies.
Though Myanmar is the world’s largest producer of jade, and the commerce is estimated to be price billions of {dollars} a 12 months, solely a really small a part of the monetary windfall leads to state coffers — with most high-quality stones believed to be smuggled over the border into China.
Since 2011, the disaster-prone jade trade has remained “managed by a community of navy elites, drug lords and their cronies”, in line with NGO International Witness.
An MEHL subsidiary reportedly holds the most important variety of jade mining licences.
The corporate, Myanmar Imperial Jade Co. Ltd., was among the many three gems entities slapped with US sanctions Thursday.
MEHL has partnerships with corporations in China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, amongst others.
It has enriched its shareholders in Myanmar, who — in line with the conglomerate’s authorities filings — are all present or retired navy officers.
Between 1990 and 2011, some $18 billion was paid out to them, in line with an Amnesty Worldwide report in September 2020.
Junta chief Common Min Aung Hlaing, reportedly one of many fundamental shareholders, would have obtained some $250,000 in dividends from MEHL in 2011 alone, the report mentioned.
Ruling for almost half a century, “the navy prime brass had time to complement themselves”, mentioned Francoise Nicolas, Asia director of the French Institute of Worldwide Relations.
The temporary stint of quasi-civilian rule from 2011-21 did little to vary that.
However the navy could have feared for its future prospects after Suu Kyi’s occasion received by a landslide in November, Nicolas instructed AFP.
“This risked endangering a part of their wealth and was very in all probability a part of their determination to launch a putsch,” she added.
Within the wake of the coup, the navy has regained management of state corporations.
It now oversees the Myanmar Oil and Fuel Enterprise — which has partnerships with France’s Whole and the US’s Chevron — and is a vastly vital asset reportedly netting almost a billion {dollars} a 12 months from pure gasoline gross sales.
To this point, Japanese brewer Kirin and Singapore-based oil firm Puma are the one international firms to have introduced they’re ending their operations within the nation.
Whole, which operates largely within the gigantic offshore Yadana gasoline discipline and paid $257 million to the Myanmar authorities in 2019, mentioned it will consider the impression of the coup.
Australia’s Woodside, which holds a stake with Whole in one other offshore venture, mentioned it was “monitoring the state of affairs”.
Previous to the coup, US sanctions had been imposed over the military’s abuses towards the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017.
These retaliatory measures targetted navy models and people, together with Min Aung Hlaing.
Debbie Stothard from the Worldwide Federation for Human Rights pushed for extra penalties to throttle the generals’ entry to funds.
Stothard additionally urged worldwide corporations to interrupt all partnerships with the ruling leaders, and mentioned Singapore — the most important international investor in Myanmar — was key.
“Some prime Burmese navy officers have had loads of private investments and financial institution accounts in Singapore because the mid-2000s. The development has accelerated in recent times,” she mentioned, including that the city-state “has leverage to behave towards” the military chiefs.
Justice For Myanmar’s Yadanar Maung urged swift retaliatory measures.
“With out definitive motion now, the navy will inflict extra violence towards the individuals, and democracy won’t have an opportunity,” she mentioned.
However others cautioned towards plunging considered one of Southeast Asia’s poorest international locations again into an financial chokehold, particularly because the junta is well-versed in sanctions.
Having run the nation for many years beneath crippling embargoes, the navy “can be ready to take action once more”, mentioned Myanmar-based political analyst Richard Horsey.
“Policymakers should resist the urge to impose progressively harsher measures with out clear-headed cost-benefit evaluation,” he added. “Do not inflict hurt on Myanmar individuals for the sins of their rulers.”

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