Banks deny they helped Myanmar junta buy weapons
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Banks deny they helped Myanmar junta buy weapons

UN report on regime’s ability to get around sanctions shines spotlight on many transactions

Myanmar navy personnel march during a parade on Armed Forces Day in 2021. (Photo: via Wikimedia Commons)
Myanmar navy personnel march during a parade on Armed Forces Day in 2021. (Photo: via Wikimedia Commons)

The Thai Bankers’ Association (TBA) said on Friday that it stood firmly against facilitating transactions for the procurement of weapons for Myanmar’s military junta.

Thai banks also treat as important preventing their services from being exploited to support the procurement of any weapons to be used to breach people’s rights, it said in a statement.

The association was responding to the release this week of a report by Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar. It details how the military regime is managing to evade sanctions and procure weapons to use against civilians, with 16 international banks involved in handling those transactions, wittingly or otherwise.

In Thailand, five banks were said to have been on one end of financial transactions involving suppliers of a wide range of goods procured by the Ministry of Defence in Myanmar: Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), Bangkok Bank, Kasikornbank, Krungthai Bank and TMB Thanachart Bank  

SCB was singled out for special attention, with transactions rising from $5 million in fiscal 2023 to $100 million in the fiscal year ending in March 2024, according to the report.

SCB issued a statement on Thursday saying it had conducted an internal audit of the transactions mentioned and that all of them dealt with payments by the bank’s clients for consumer and energy products.

“All member banks have their own unit capable of supplying them with up-to-date information about people, organisations and countries they are prohibited from doing business with,” said the statement by the TBA.

“Thai commercial banks have maintained a clear policy against supporting the procurement of weapons or other military hardware by Myanmar military organisations.”

Materials supplied to the Ministry of Defence in Myanmar by companies based in Thailand ranged from spare parts for helicopters and aircraft to dual-use goods such as radio communications and IT equipment, medical supplies, construction materials, tools, lubricants and oil, the UN report said. A breakdown of the value was not available.

One area that has attracted a lot of international attention has been the sale of aviation fuel to Myanmar, with activists calling on countries to cut off supplies to prevent the military from carrying out air strikes that often kill civilians.

The UN report notes that while aviation fuel is also utilised for non-military purposes, “the [junta] maintains effective control over the supply chain and can prioritise supplies to its air force”.

In this regard, it noted that two Thailand-based trading companies sold aviation fuel to Myanmar entities in 2023, with $80 million paid into the trading companies’ accounts at Krungthai Bank and Kasikornbank. It is not known if any of this fuel ended up being used by the military.

Rangsiman Rome, an MP with the opposition Move Forward Party, vowed on Friday to seek the truth about the issues raised in the UN report through the House committee on security affairs, which he chairs, and urged the public to closely monitor the issue.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Thursday that the country’s banking and financial institutions follow protocols the same as in other major financial hubs, adding that the government would look into the UN special rapporteur’s report.

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