World Bank-backed Yoma Bank Working With Myanmar military’s Mytel Network Operator

By Hein Htoo Zan 29 November 2022

Myanmar’s Yoma Bank, part-backed by the World Bank, is providing banking services to Telecom International Myanmar Company Limited, the operator of the Myanmar military’s Mytel cell phone network, according to Justice for Myanmar (JFM).

The activist group revealed that as of March 2022 Yoma Bank, which is affiliated to the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), held over US$10 million in a US dollar account for Telecom International Myanmar. Telecom International is a joint venture of the military’s Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) conglomerate.

Other Mytel shareholders are Viettel Global Investment, backed by Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defence, and Myanmar National Telecom Holdings, an investment vehicle for Myanmar cronies.

Yoma is controlled by FMI, a holding company listed on the Yangon Stock Exchange. It is headed by Serge Pun and backed by major international investors.

Greenwood Capital, an affiliate of the Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, owns 19.7 per cent of Yoma Bank. The Norwegian development finance institution Norfund owns 10.6 per cent. IFC owns four and half per cent of the bank.

“Mytel is a strategic resource of the illegal Myanmar military junta and the company aids and abets the junta’s war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Ma Yadanar Maung, JFM’s spokesperson.

JFM pointed out that Yoma Bank is supporting Myanmar’s military regime by providing banking services to its telecom operator.

Ma Yadanar Maung said that Norfund, IFC and GIC have been warned about Yoma Bank’s business with the Myanmar military and its associates, yet no action has been taken.

JFM has called on Yoma Bank and its investors to immediately end its business relationship with Telecom International Myanmar and all other companies owned by the Myanmar military, which stands accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Myanmar’s generals benefit through access to Vietnamese investment and technology and future profits. Justice for Myanmar estimates that Mytel’s Myanmar military owners are projected to earn more than US$700 million in a decade from Mytel’s fifth year of operation,” said a JFM statement issued on November 25.

Mytel also provides the regime leadership with capabilities for surveillance of the general public. The military’s signals directorate is operationally linked to Mytel, and the mobile network uses and maintains the military’s network of fibre optic cables. Mytel operates cell phone towers on military bases, which are likely used to supplement military communications.

According to transaction records recently released by whistleblower website Distributed Denial of Secrets, there were more than 200 transactions between the MEC-owned Innwa Bank and Yoma Bank. MEC has been sanctioned by the US, United Kingdom, and Canada.

After JFM called on international banks to cease transactions with Innwa Bank in early November, Australia’s ANZ bank announced on November 22 that it will pull out of Myanmar by early 2023.

In April last year JFM revealed that Yoma Bank issued a loan in 2020 to Pinnacle Asia, a cell phone tower company co-owned by Khin Thiri Thet Mon, daughter of junta chief and war criminal Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The loan was for Pinnacle Asia to build cell phone towers for Mytel.

Telecom International Myanmar was identified by the UN Fact-Finding Mission as a military business, yet it has remained a Yoma Bank customer.

“If Norfund, IFC and GIC cannot stop Yoma Bank from providing services to Mytel and transacting with Innwa Bank, then they should responsibly divest, in accordance with their international human rights responsibilities,” said JFM’s Ma Yadanar Maung.