By Grant Peck
The Associated Press
BANGKOK (AP) — On Sept. 10, An environmental activist group accused Myanmar’s ruling military junta of hiding about $4.8 billion in unreported earnings from natural gas projects with foreign oil companies in overseas banks.
EarthRights International, which links human rights to environmental issues, said in a report that the revenues from the Yadana gas pipeline project were being kept in two Singaporean banks — the Overseas Chinese Banking Corp. and DBS Group — instead of going into the national budget of Myanmar, also known as Burma.
“The military elite are hiding billions of dollars of the peoples’ revenue in Singapore while the country needlessly suffers under the lowest social spending in Asia,” said Matthew Smith, a principal author of the report.
“The revenue from this pipeline is the regime’s lifeline and a critical leverage point that the international community could use to support the people of Burma,” he added.
A DBS official rejected the allegations. “ERI’s report is categorically untrue and without basis. DBS does not have any involvement with the Yadana project,” said the official, who asked not to be identified, citing policy.
Comment was not immediately available from OCBC.
Basing its findings in part on a confidential International Monetary Fund report it obtained, EarthRights International said since production began in 2000, Total and Chevron’s Yadana gas pipeline has generated an estimated $4.83 billion in revenue for Myanmar’s government.
However, the regime listed just $29 million for its gas earnings, leaving about $4.8 billion unaccounted for, it said. The report said the difference was hidden using a fixed official foreign exchange rate rather than the free market exchange rate that is normally used for commercial transactions.
The Washington-based group, in a separate report also released in Thailand, reiterated accusations that Total and Chevron were complicit in abuses by Myanmar’s authoritarian regime through their investments in the Yadana project.
Myanmar’s junta is the target of economic and political sanctions by the United States and other nations because of its poor human rights record. The United States bans new investment, but Chevron’s stake predated the sanctions.
“Total and Chevron claim abuses have stopped in connection to their project but it’s simply untrue,” said Naing Htoo, an EarthRights International program coordinator.
Both Total and Chevron have been accused of responsibility for human rights abuses related to the pipeline. Both oil companies have said they were not connected to any abuses in Myanmar.
Total spokesman Paul Floren in Paris reserved comment until after reading the report.
“We are examining the report and when we are finished examining it, we will react,” Floren said.
Calls to Chevron’s headquarters in California were directed to voicemail. In the oil company’s last press releases about its Myanmar operation, in October 2007, it said that the company’s local development programs “help improve the lives of the people they touch and thereby communicate our values, including respect for human rights.”
An e-mail request for comment to Myanmar’s government spokesman was not immediately answered. ♦