YANGON—Influential Myanmar tycoon Serge Pun, owner of one of Myanmar’s largest conglomerates, is currently in North Korea as part of an exchange program organized by the Singapore-based CHOSON Exchange, an organization that brings professionals from around the world to connect with North Korean university students, institutions and officials.
Serge Pun’s Yoma Strategic Group, listed on stock exchanges in Myanmar and Singapore, operates in automobile manufacturing, financial services, real estate development, technology, construction and healthcare.
According to the CHOSON Exchange website, a one-week workshop entitled “Pyongyang Urban Innovation Week” is being held in the isolated nation’s capital. It began on Aug. 3 and continues until Aug. 10.
North Korea, largely an international pariah, has had sanctions placed on it from countries all over the world, including China, the United States, Japan, South Korea, the European Union and Australia, among others.
According to its website, CHOSON Exchange focuses on economic policy and business and legal training for North Korean youths.
In a photo the organization posted on Facebook of former Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo participating in a panel discussion during the event, Serge Pun can be seen sitting in the middle of the panel.
The description of the photo reads: “George Yeo and other panelists had a great time this week discussing good governance, hard choices in policy making and negotiations with students and professors from Kim Il Sung University, PUFS [Pusan University of Foreign Studies, a South Korean university], and the newly reopened Academy of International Relations … topics were wide ranging from the impact of corruption on development, making Singapore “less boring” and feeding the minds of the people as aspirations change” and “the future of the Korean Peninsula and the importance of reaching peace through negotiations and compromise.”
Yeo and Serge Pun are both on the board of directors of the Yangon city-owned New Yangon Development Company Ltd. (NYDC), the major backer of the New Yangon City project slated to be developed on 20,000 acres of land on the western bank of the Yangon River. as part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative in Myanmar.
An initial framework agreement for the project between NYDC and the Chinese state-owned China Communications Construction Company, Ltd. (CCCC) for US$1.5-billion (about 2.3 trillion kyats) has the latter building the infrastructure for the project.
CCCC has been accused of engaging in corruption and bribery relating to development deals in at least 10 countries in Africa and Asia, from the Philippines to Bangladesh to Tanzania.
Photographs posted by Yeo indicate that Serge Pun spoke about tourism-related infrastructure.
Over the weekend, CHOSON Exchange participants, including Serge Pan, held meetings in Pyongyang with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil Song and ambassadors from Cambodia, Britain and China.
CHOSON Exchange generally charges 1,900 euros (US$2,127.74) to send interested individuals to Pyongyang, a fee that covers airfare, transportation, meals, interpreters and accommodation.
Representatives from Yoma Strategic Group declined to comment Tuesday afternoon.
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