The Australian government is under pressure to impose sanctions on Myanmar’s military junta and activists are calling on ANZ Bank to reconsider its dealings in the South-East Asian nation amid new revelations about jet fuel supply chains and transactions.
- New report highlights jet fuel supply chain links to military air strikes by Myanmar’s junta
- Activists say leaked ANZ transactions reflect the failure of Australian government to impose sanctions
- Foreign Minister Penny Wong has said sanctions are under active consideration
An Amnesty International report released on Thursday called on the international community to “urgently prevent shipments of aviation fuel from reaching the Myanmar military”.
The report found companies involved in supplying aviation fuel were then linked to alleged war crimes and deadly air strikes.
Tasneem Roc — from the Australia-based Myanmar Campaign Network — called on the Australia’s federal government to act.
“Strong statements will not save lives, sanctions will save lives,” Ms Roc said.
Her group said the country did not produce its own jets, helicopters, tanks nor aviation fuel, and that targeted sanctions on Myanmar military businesses would “cut the flow of foreign revenue the Myanmar junta relies on to purchase arms”.
Naw Wahku Shee — from the Karen Peace Support Network — said the latest war crimes were an escalation of ongoing assaults against ethnic groups over decades.
“The drones come every day and night, then the air strikes come,” she said.
“People are in constant fear.”
Australia is an outlier among like-minded countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union, all of which have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s military rulers since the coup on February 1 last year.
Since then, more than 2,400 people have been killed, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, including dozens in recent deadly military air bombing of a concert in Kachin state.
More than 16,000 have been arrested, including Australian economist Sean Turnell.
He was sentenced to three years in prison in what human rights groups have described as a politically motivated conviction by a military court.
Leaked ANZ transactions renew calls for sanctions
This week, leaked bank records released by the Distributed Denial of Secrets — a journalist organisation with a focus on transparency and data — showed that a handful of transactions were made via the ANZ Bank to military-owned Innwa Bank since the coup.
Innwa bank is owned by the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a military conglomerate which has been sanctioned by the US, the UK and the EU since last year.
The ABC understands the transactions were in Myanmar kyat, rather than US dollars, which appears to not violate US sanctions, and Australia has yet to impose any economic sanctions.
“ANZ has not breached Australian or international sanctions, and to suggest otherwise could be misleading and deceptive,” an ANZ spokesperson said.
However, according to Justyna Gudzowska — the director of illicit finance policy with The Sentry in the US — it was not a good look for ANZ.
“Financial institutions that continue to do business with US, UK, and EU-sanctioned entities, especially those [that] are linked to a brutal military regime that commits atrocities against its own people, take on substantial reputational risk,” she said.
It could also cause issues in dealing with partner banks, she added.
“This is why many multinational banks adhere to US, UK and EU sanctions, even if not strictly required by law and would rather abandon their limited exposure to Myanmar rather than take on these risks and extra compliance costs of doing business with a high-risk jurisdiction.”
The ANZ transactions totalled around $5,000 and were via AIA in Hong Kong and edotco, a Malaysian company which leases towers to telecom Mytel (which is partly owned by MEC), to individual Innwa bank accounts in Myanmar.
“It is inexcusable that ANZ is continuing business as usual in Myanmar, transacting with a US, UK and EU-sanctioned military bank that finances war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Yadanar Maung from activist group Justice For Myanmar.
“If, indeed, it cannot stop facilitating payment from its Myanmar branch to military banks, then it has no option but to exit Myanmar.”
In a statement, ANZ said it “complies with all applicable laws in all of the jurisdictions in which it operates, including requirements of supra-national organisations, such as the United Nations and European Union”.
“We are monitoring the situation in Myanmar closely and our priority is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our staff.
“While we are unable to comment on specific relationships or transactions, ANZ has robust processes in place to ensure all activities undertaken are compliant with the applicable regulations. These processes are in line with the Financial Action Taskforce recommendations.”
The Financial Action Taskforce last month placed Myanmar on its blacklist for terrorism financing and money laundering, alongside North Korea and Iran.
It called on jurisdictions to “apply enhanced due diligence measures”, due to the risks in Myanmar, but said countries should ensure that flows of money for humanitarian assistance are not disrupted.
Ms Maung said the ANZ transactions were a “direct result of the failure of successive Australian governments to sanction the junta and its conglomerates”.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong has previously said that sanctions against the Myanmar military regime are “under active consideration”.
“Australia maintains a longstanding arms embargo against Myanmar and supports calls for a global arms embargo against Myanmar,” a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said.
“We are working bilaterally, multilaterally and with like-minded partners to encourage those countries providing arms, practical support and enabling materiel to Myanmar to cease doing so.
“The Australian government encourages businesses to consider the wider legal and commercial context of their trade and investments, and seek their own legal advice as to whether they might be affected by the sanctions laws of another country.”
ANZ previously came under fire for declining to sign a letter condemning violence in Myanmar shortly after the coup.
Dr Tun-Aung Shwe — the Australian representative for the National Unity Government (established by elected politicians, protest leaders and the heads of ethnic groups in Myanmar) — said it was a dilemma for foreign businesses.
“ANZ authorities need to consider very seriously … to suspend any banking procedures related to the Myanmar military junta and their business associates,” he said.
Dr Shwe said there were two schools of thought: to withdraw all foreign investment, or for responsible businesses to stay but cut ties with the military in order to benefit the economy and Myanmar’s people.
He said that, in some cases, it could backfire if companies pull out of the country and their assets fell into the military’s hands, strengthening their grip on the country.
Amnesty calls for cuts to fuel supply
The Amnesty report — Deadly Cargo: Exposing the Supply Chain that Fuels War Crimes in Myanmar — was in collaboration with Justice For Myanmar.
It found fuel-storage facilities linked to military air bases, “showing that civilian and military use of aviation fuel is inextricably linked”.
“These air strikes have devastated families, terrorised civilians, killed and maimed victims,” Amnesty International secretary-general Agnès Callamard said.
“But, if the planes can’t fuel up, they can’t fly out and wreak havoc.”
Puma Energy — which is largely owned by Singapore-based global commodity company Trafigura — “contributed to human rights harm caused by the Myanmar military” by facilitating the junta’s access to aviation fuel, the report said.
The company had said that, since the coup, it had limited its operations to providing fuel for solely civilian purposes, however, the report found otherwise.
Puma Energy announced it was leaving the country and selling its business in Myanmar, 10 days after receiving the evidence uncovered in the report.
However, the report also discovered that PetroChina’s Singapore Petroleum Company, Russia’s Rosneft, Chevron Singapore, Thai Oil and ExxonMobil were linked to shipments.
“Documents obtained by Amnesty International show the shipments from Thai Oil and PetroChina’s SPC were intended for use by the Myanmar Air Force,” the report said.
“Representatives of Rosneft, Chevron and Thai Oil told Amnesty International they had received assurances that the shipments would be for civilian purposes only. PetroChina’s SPC did not respond to requests for comment.
“In response to Amnesty International’s letters, Thai Oil stated it will pause sales of Jet A-1 aviation fuel to Myanmar ‘until no such concerned issue’ exists.”
Amnesty International also documented 16 unlawful air attacks, and described the use of cluster munitions — which are internationally banned, as “a concerning new development”.
The Myanmar Embassy in Canberra has been contacted for comment. The military junta has repeatedly denied attacking civilians and considers the NUG and ethnic armed groups fighting against the regime as “terrorists”.