Revealing the dubious links of an Australian company in troubled Myanmar
01 Mar 2021

When Myanmar’s military dictatorship imprisoned the country’s democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, earlier this month, one of the ramifications was the trading halt on the Australian Stock Exchange of a small Australian listed mining company, Myanmar Metals.

The company’s key asset – a silver and lead mine in the war-torn Shan state that was once touted as the greatest deposit in the British Empire – was suddenly facing a surge in local violence and ongoing political uncertainty, the company said in a statement to investors. The ministers overseeing mining in the country had changed and there was the possibility of renewed international sanctions.

But what the Perth based company did not mention was corporate links that trace back to a firm accused of enriching the Myanmar junta and of being run by a drug kingpin known as the “Godfather of Heroin”. These ties themselves are landing Myanmar Metals at the centre of a fresh sanctions debate.

Myanmar Metals’ prized asset is the Bawdwin mine. Before World War II it was one of the biggest in the world. Former US president Herbert Hoover made his fortune there.

The mine is, according to company statements, “critical to the future of an emergent nation” and “the enrichment of the lives of people in Shan state”. It has touted the involvement of famed Australian rich-lister and prospector Mark Creasy.

But since 2009, the Bawdwin concession has been owned by Win Myint Mo Industries Co. Ltd (WMM). It has been dealing with the Australian company, Myanmar Metals, since early 2017, and the two companies later formed a joint venture to reopen the mine.

Just months before it went into business with the Australian company, WMM emerged out of a different company, infrastructure giant Asia World. Asia World’s founder Lo Hsing Han, and his son, Asia World chief executive Steven Law, faced credible allegations in 2011 and again in 2019 of previous involvement in organised crime and shady dealings with Myanmar’s military, which is known as Tatmadaw.

As recently as 2019, the United Nations Independent Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar labelled Asia World as “among the largest crony companies” in bed with the military.

Lo Hsing Han was also once Myanmar’s most infamous drug baron. Prior to his death in 2013, he built a fortune by overseeing a militia that sold heroin, earning the nickname the “Godfather of Heroin”.

His son Steven Law still runs Asia World. The demerger which spawned WMM occurred, according to one business figure who has dealt extensively with WMM, because of Asia World’s suspect historical reputation.

Company filings reviewed by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald reveal that WMM is run by two businessmen. One of them, U Maung Kyay, helped found Asia World alongside Lo “Godfather of Heroin” Hsing Han. The second WMM director, U Than Myint, was an Asia World director for 20 years.

Both Kyay and Myint are now fellow directors in the Bawdwin mine joint-venture company alongside Myanmar Metal’s chief executive John Lamb, a former director of the Tasmanian Minerals Council, and several other Australian businessmen. Mr Lamb declined to comment for this article but in a recent statement to the ASX said the company was “committed to Myanmar and the Bawdwin project”.

WMM no longer has any formal ties to Asia World and no allegations have been made directly against WMM’s directors Kyay or Myint or the firm itself. But their CVs show that both worked for Asia World in senior positions when the US Treasury department accused the firm of providing “critical support to the Burmese [military] regime” and receiving “numerous lucrative government concessions, including the construction of ports, highways and government facilities”.

Kyay and Myint are no stranger to sanctions. Asia World and Steven Law were placed on the US government’s sanctions list in 2011 over Law and his father’s alleged links to drug trafficking and military corruption. These sanctions were lifted in October 2016.

By Nick McKenzie, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 March 2021

Read more at The Sydney Morning Herald

Photo: The EITI [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

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