Opinion

Sanctioned General’s Singapore Bank Accounts Reportedly Aided Arms Deals

By The Irrawaddy 10 July 2013

RANGOON — According to business sources in Rangoon, a Burmese general who was recently placed on US sanctions list may have opened several bank accounts in Singapore in past years in order to help Burma’s military sort out international arms deals.

Lt-Gen Thein Htay, who heads the Directorate of Defense Industries (DDI), was put on a US Treasury sanctions list early this month for “illicit trade in North Korean arms to Burma.” DDI was designated for US sanctions a year earlier for developing missile technology with the help of North Korean experts.

Several businessmen told The Irrawaddy that Thein Htay was known to have opened several bank accounts in Singapore several years ago, supposedly in order to help clear arms procurements made by Burma’s military. Millions of dollars are believed to be involved in the deals, the businessmen said.

Singapore has long been a favored destination for the generals in Burma’s former junta and other members of the country’s elite, who visit the city state to open bank accounts, buy property or to receive healthcare treatment.

The fact that many of the generals were on a US sanctions list has not hindered their opportunities to visit and do business in Singapore.

Thein Htay was appointed Border Affairs Minister by President Thein Sein after he took office in 2011, but in recent months Thein Htay stepped down from his position for unknown reasons and rejoined the military.

In 2008, Thein Htay and other senior generals made a secret visit to North Korea. They visited military facilities and, according to the US State Department, signed a memorandum of understanding to gain assistance from North Korean experts in building medium range, liquid-fueled ballistic missiles.

The US government has been improving its relations with President Thein’s reformist government in the past two years, but it remains concerned about Burma’s military links with North Korea. It is believed that last year Washington sent a notice to Burma’s government informing it that DDI’s arms procurement activities were being closely watched.

The US government has stated that its measures are not targeted at Thein Sein’s government. This month’s action taken against Thein Htay, the US Treasury said, “does not target the Government of Burma, which has continued to take positive steps in severing its military ties with North Korea.”

At the recent Independence Day celebration held in at the US Embassy in Rangoon Minister Aung Min, the government’s chief peace negotiator, was a guest of honor and received a warm welcome at the reception.

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