Brunei’s Business Links With Myanmar Military Raise Questions Over ASEAN Envoy’s Fitness

By The Irrawaddy 12 August 2021

Campaign group Justice for Myanmar has released a statement warning that the appointment of Erywan Yusof as ASEAN Special Envoy to Myanmar is not suitable because of Brunei’s state business ties with the Myanmar junta.

Brunei’s fully state-owned oil company Brunei Energy Services & Trading, or BEST (formerly Brunei National Petroleum Company, or PetroleumBRUNEI) holds licenses for onshore oil and gas blocks in partnership with International Group of Entrepreneurs (IGE), a crony conglomerate. Licenses were awarded in 2014 under the Myanmar military’s former proxy government led by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the press release said.

Brunei’s oil business in Myanmar is carried out through BRUNEI Energy Myanmar (formerly PB Myanmar), under revenue sharing arrangements with Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

MOGE is under military control and believed to generate a significant source of income for the junta and the military.

IGE was once owned by the late army officer and minister Aung Thaung. Known to be notoriously corrupt and the mastermind of the infamous Depayin massacre in May 2003, Aung Thaung was extremely unpopular among the public and died in 2015. He was sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2014 for undermining Myanmar’s reform process and “perpetuating violence, oppression and corruption.”

IGE is now headed by Nay Aung, son of Aung Thaung. Nay Aung holds shares in Mytel, a mobile operator controlled by a subsidiary of Myanmar military conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation, and runs the Lotte Hotel.

Nay Aung’s brother Admiral Moe Aung is commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Navy and a former director of the military conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings Limited.

The family is close to former dictators Senior General Than Shwe and his deputy General Maung Aye, and remains one of the wealthiest in Myanmar.

This is not the first time activists, campaign groups and media have scrutinized the alleged conflict of interest and business ties of an envoy to Myanmar.

Razali Ismail, former UN special envoy to Myanmar, was accused of using his position to seal deals for IRIS Technologies, the Malaysian-based firm he partly owned, to provide technology in Myanmar in the early 2000s.

The Malaysian diplomat-cum-executive has denied any conflict of interest and claims he never spoke to Myanmar’s leaders about his business dealings in his capacity as special envoy. He served as UN special envoy to Myanmar from 2000 to 2005. He said the UN looked into the case and found there was no conflict of interest.

However, several Western diplomats including the US questioned his business ties with the military regime. Razali quit the post in 2005.

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