Security guards ask the photographer to stop taking pictures of the DBS Building in Singapore. DBS is one of the two banks cited in the EarthRights report as an administrator of the Burmese regime’s gas earnings. Photo: Reuters/Vivek Prakash.
By Erik Hagen
(English translation of this story was published on 13 Oct 2009)
That the Pension Fund’s investment favourites Total, Chevron and Daewoo are among the Burmese regime’s most important supporters has been known for several years.
Norwatch is now able to reveal that two banks in Singapore – which, according to a new report, administer the Burmese generals’ accounts – are also partly owned by the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global.
According to a new report from the organisation EarthRights (ERI), Burma’s oil money never finds its way to the country’s state budgets but goes right into secret accounts in two banks in Singapore
The two banks cited to in the ERI report are Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC), in which the Pension Fund has invested 376 million Norwegian kroners (45 million euros) in shares and bonds, and DBS Group, in which the Pension Fund has invested 353 million kroners (42 million euros) in shares.
“If this is correct, it is a scandal. This is something that Kristin Halvorsen, Minister of Finance, must quickly take up with the Singapore banks, so that we get the facts on the table. The banks must investigate all suspicious accounts that can be traced back to the military regime in Burma,” Inger Lise Husøy, director of the Norwegian Burma Committee, told Norwatch.
“This is money stolen from the Burmese people. The accounts must be frozen, and the money must be returned to the people at a suitable time,” Husøy said.
By using 30-year-old exchange rates, the junta has been able to secrete gas earnings, according to ERI. Whereas the exchange rate actually is about USD 1 for 1000 Burmese kyat, the junta uses an exchange rate of 1 dollar for 6 kyat when reporting their earning. The authorities thus use a rate that is 166 times too low.
Consequently, a total of USD 4.8 billion of the regime’s USD 4.83 gas billions has apparently evaporated. According to a confidential IMF report to which ERI has obtained access, the gas earnings in Burma have “contributed less than 1 percent of total budget revenue in 2007/08, but would have contributed about 57 percent if valued at the market exchange rate.”
”These gas earnings constitute the most important income source for the brutal regime and enable them to withstand the pressure for democratic reform,” Naing Htoo in EarthRights told Norwatch.
He declared that the gas earnings are even more important to preserve the regime than the political support from countries like China and Russia.
Both of the two banks have denied that they administer the generals’ money, according to the newspaper The Irrawaddy.
On its web pages the French oil company Total boasts about contributing to the development of Burma. The main recommendation of ERI’s report is for Total to disclose how much it has paid to the Burmese military junta since 1992.