How Myanmar army runs a global business empire to finance atrocities

New DelhiWritten By: Gravitas deskUpdated: Sep 11, 2020, 07:39 AM IST

Myanmar army (file photo). Photograph:(AFP)

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The military in Myanmar has a finger in every pie. And that includes the government. The military has the power to veto major political decisions. It controls a quarter of seats in the parliament.

Myanmar is in election mode and campaigning has begun. Political rallies are being held and with the election season underway there is also a controversy.

The controversy involves the Myanmar army. The army holds considerable power over the political establishment in the country and has often been accused of human rights violations.

A new report shows how the army is running a global business empire to finance its atrocities.

The report is part of an investigation by Amnesty International. It is based on leaked government documents. The documents which apparently exposes how international companies have been indirectly financing the Myanmar army.

Many of the military units that have been receiving funds are involved in human rights violations. The report claims that military generals have been receiving huge revenues from shares in Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL).

It is a secret conglomerate run by the military with several local and foreign businesses as partners. The board of this conglomerate is composed of high-level military figures. It is headed by the military chief Min Aan Laing himself.

According to the report, MEHL establishes joint ventures with business partners across Myanmar. This includes business activities like mining, manufacturing and trade.

The profits go to MEHL. The dividends go to shareholders.

Who are the shareholders?

  • Kirin Holdings, a Japanese beverage company.
  • Inno Group, a South Korean property developer
  • Pan-Pacific, a South Korean property developer
  • RMH Singapore, a private company involved in tobacco operations
  • Wanbao, a Chinese metal mining company.

All these companies are business partners of the Myanmar Army. Their operations generate substantial revenue. The profit is distributed among regional commands, army divisions, battalions, troops and war veteran associations.

The report says that between 1990 and 2001 more than $18 billion were given to shareholders. Out of this some $16 billion were taken by military units alone.

What do they do with this kind of money? Cover their operational costs and fund atrocities. At least 95 of these military units fall under the western command of the Myanmar army, the one involved in operations in the Rakhine state.

33rd and 99th Light Infantry divisions of the Myanmar army are also listed as the shareholders.

These divisions have been involved in several crimes against the Rohingyas and other ethnic groups. They have been accused of large scale massacre of men, women and children.

So the bottom line is this: the business syndicate led by the Myanmar army is funding crimes against humanity. The companies involved are not doing anything to prevent or mitigate these crimes. The report says they are aware but they are not willing to disengage.
The military in Myanmar has a finger in every pie and that includes the government. The military has the power to veto major political decisions. It controls a quarter of seats in the parliament plus, it has a State Counsellor willing to go to any lengths to defend the army

She is a Nobel peace laureate. She is defending the same army that kept her under house arrest for years. She is also tipped to win the upcoming election. So the syndicate runs, the army makes money, the crimes continue and the Myanmar government stays silent.