YANGON—Prominent Singaporean businessman Lim Kaling has decided to pull out of a joint venture with ties to a Myanmar military-owned conglomerate controlled by the leaders of the recent military coup in the country.
One week after the armed forces staged a coup and detained national civilian leaders State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, Lim said that recent events in Myanmar had caused him “grave concern.”
“As a result, I have decided to exit my investment in Myanmar, disposing of my one-third stake in the joint venture that owns RMH Singapore Pte Ltd,” he said.
Military-owned conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings Public Co. Ltd. (MEHL) and RMHS jointly operate Virginia Tobacco Co. Ltd. (VTCL). RMHS owns a 49-percent stake in VTCL, while MEHL owns the remainder. It has been operated as a joint venture since 1993. VTCL has a virtual monopoly on the cigarette market in Myanmar, producing the country’s most popular cigarette brands, Red Ruby and Premium Gold.
“It is my only remaining investment in the country, initiated nearly three decades ago under a very different circumstance,” Lim said, adding, “I have always been a passive minority shareholder with no direct involvement in the operations of Virginia Tobacco.”
He said he started the joint venture with a friend in 1993 after seeing an economic opportunity in Myanmar, as the country was opening up to the rest of the world.
“Through this venture, we had hoped to help the country spur economic growth, create jobs, and raise standards of living,” Lim said.
Lim is also the co-founder of Hong Kong-listed gaming group Razer. Earlier, he faced international condemnation for his partnership with MEHL over the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State. Rights group Justice for Myanmar launched an online petition calling on the Razer board to sack Lim unless he cut ties with MEHL.
Justice for Myanmar said Lim’s decision did not mean the end of RMH Singapore’s relationship with the military regime, however. “More pressure is needed,” the group said.
It urged Lim to stand with the people of Myanmar and persuade RMH Singapore to fully divest all businesses with ties to MEHL.
Last week, Japanese beverage giant Kirin decided to cut ties with MEHL in the beer business as a result of the coup. It had jointly invested with MEHL in Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery.