The Irrawaddy Magazine
27 Feb 08
The US government on Monday added more names to the targeted sanctions list of the Burmese junta’s business cronies, including one of the country’s richest businessmen long suspected of being involved in the drug trade.
US President Gorge W. Bush, in a statement, called on the junta to begin a genuine dialogue with opposition and ethnic minority groups.
“As one element of our policy to promote a genuine democratic transition, the U.S maintains targeted sanctions that focus on the assets of regime members and their cronies who grow rich while Burma’s people suffer under their misrule,” he in the statement.
Among the businessmen was Tun Myint Naing, also known as Steven Law. His father, Lo Hsing Han, and his wife, Cecilia Ng, a citizen of Singapore, are also included on the list along with their 10 companies based in Singapore; four companies they control are based in Burma.
“The Department of the Treasury has applied financial sanctions against Steven Law, a regime crony also suspected of drug trafficking activities, and his financial network,” said Bush. “Today’s actions add to the 33 individuals and 11 entities previously designated for sanctions.”
Stuart Levey, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement, “Unless the ruling junta in Burma halts the violent oppression of its people, we will continue to target those like Steven Law who sustain it and who profit corruptly because of that support.”
Steven Law’s companies, Asia World Co.Ltd, Asia World Port Management, Asia World Industries Ltd, and Asia World Light Ltd as well as Golden Aaron Pte. Ltd and another nine companies in Singapore managed by Cecilia Ng were named in the sanctions. Golden Aaron Ltd is associated with a production sharing contract between Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise and a business group including the China National Offshore Oil Company Myanmar Ltd [CNOOC] to carry out oil and gas exploration in the Kyaunphyu Region of Arakan State.
Officials of Asia World Co. Ltd in Rangoon and Golden Aaron Pte Ltd were not available for comment when contacted by The Irrawaddy. An official of Asia World Co. Ltd said Steven Law and other executives were in Naypyidaw for a meeting.
Aung Din, the director of the US Campaign for Burma, said on Tuesday the junta continues human rights violations in Burma with the support of leading businessmen.
“The cronies also monopolize the country’s economy by using their connections with the ruling generals,” he said. “One of the significant steps for political reform in Burma is sustained pressure from the international community. The language which the repressive regime understands is international pressure.”
He added that other cronies, such as Zaw Zaw of Max Co. Ltd and minister Aung Thaung’s sons, Nay Aung and Pyi Aung, who run IGE Pte. Ltd could be included in new sanctions lists if the junta refuses meaningful political reform.
However, speaking on anonymity, a well-known journalist in Rangoon who disagrees with sanctions said he did not think they will produce democratic reform.
“It is a targeted sanction,” he said. “So Tay Za can [be eliminated] by the sanctions, but there will be another Tay Za.”
He said sanctions might create some pressure for reform, but educating people would lead to the most reform. “We should get people more information and knowledge,” he said.
Since last September, the US has announced four targeted sanctions on Burmese government officials and their business cronies. In previous sanctions, the US Treasury Department named 12 business cronies, including business tycoon Tay Za, the owner of Air Bagan and other companies as well as officials of the military junta.
The son and wife of Tay Za, Pye Phyo Tay Za and Thidar Zaw and their companies, including Htoo Trading Company, Pavo Trading, Air Bagan, Singapore and Air Bagan Limited, Burma, and Htoo Wood Products are also named in sanctions.
Other cronies including Htay Myint (chairman of Yuzana Company) and Khin Shwe (president of Zay Gabar Company) are also on the black list.
A Burmese political scientist at a university in Southeast Asia who asked to remain anonymous said targeted sanctions should have been done much earlier.
However, he said businessmen like Steven Law do business through foreign partners and countries like China.
“They can still circumvent the sanctions,” he said. “The US government should also look into their foreign business partners. Also, they can still do business via China.”
“The Chinese RMB [yuan] is very strong. I heard that they [Burmese generals and their cronies] now try to do business transactions via Chinese banks,” he said.