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Myanmar’s military has transferred billions of dollars from a gas project into two banks operating in Singapore, contributing to “high-level corruption”, a U.S.-based environmental group said on Thursday.
A report by non-profit Earth Rights International (ERI) said the junta had transferred $4.83 billion since 2000 from a gas pipeline, money that was kept off the national budget and stored in the banks operating in the city-state.
“Rather than contribute to Burma’s economic development, the billion dollar revenues from the project have instead contributed to high-level corruption,” the report said. The money, it said, came from the controversial Yadana gas project involving energy companies Chevron Corp of the United States, France’s Total and Thailand’s PTTEP.
The two banks and the Singaporean government were informed of the group’s findings last week, ERI said. All had yet to respond.
“As long as Myanmar’s regime has easy access to these funds we feel it will have little incentive to change,” Matthew Smith, one of the report’s authors, told a news conference.
“We urge the international community to use this as leverage to help the people of (Myanmar). We fully expect the Singapore government and the banks to do the right thing.”
Despite a broad range of sanctions placed on Myanmar by the United States and the European Union because of political repression, its vast reserves of natural gas have been a financial lifeline for the regime.
ERI estimated the military government had received 75 percent of the revenue generated by the Yadana pipeline, which runs from the Andaman Sea to western Thailand.
ERI said the junta managed to keep the $4.83 billion off its national budget accounts by using a 30-year-old exchange rate from dollars to the local kyat currency, which produced a sum in kyat far smaller than the real amount generated.
“Singapore has very tight laws regarding corruption and misappropriation of public funds,” Smith said. “These accounts should be red-flagged until the banks have the opportunity to cooperate with the authorities.”
China’s largest oil and gas producer, the China National Petroleum Corporation, is due to start construction of nearly 4,000 km (2,485 miles) of dual pipelines from Myanmar’s western Arakan State to China’s Yunnan province next month.
The deal is expected to provide the government, which has ruled the country since a 1962 coup, with at least $29 billion over 30 years.