Burma implicated in major oil fraud

An investigation in the Maldives has implicated the Burmese military and a number of private companies in an $US800 million money-laundering scam involving the sale of Maldivian cut-price oil.

The allegations were made after the Maldivian government in March last year hired a UK-based auditing firm called Grant Thornton to investigate the corruptive practices of former president and autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who left office in 2008.

The audit unearthed fudged accounts that showed that the unit prices of barrels of oil differed in invoices for different accounts, with one irregularity amounting to over $US5 million. A Maldivian government official who asked to remain anonymous told DVB that the total scale of the fraud was more than half the country’s GDP.

The scam, which can be read in full here, used a joint venture between the Singaporean subsidiary of the Maldivian State Trading Organisation (STO), set up by Gayoom’s half brother, Abdul Yameen, and a Malaysian company called Mocom, also based in Singapore. Amongst the management and directors of the joint venture were several people of Burmese origin, namely Gemyl Aung and Kamal Bin Rashid, also known as Myint Lwin Oo.

Ships carrying the oil from Singapore, which had been channeled through the two companies, had records demonstrating that they embarked but never arrived in the Indian Ocean archipelago. Instead the vessels were selling on the bounty to international buyers on the black market, including Burma’s military junta. The Burmese then helped hide the fraudulent transactions to create a “super profit”, as the Grant Thornton audit puts it.

The companies which show up on invoices seen by the auditors were the powerful Kanbawza Bank, which is owned by junta crony Aung Ko Win, the Golden Aaron Pte Ltd. and SH Trading, both owned by members of the same family which owns Asia World, namely Steven Law and his Singaporean wife, Cecilia NG. The junta parastatal company, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH), also appeared to have played a role.

The Singaporean police are reportedly investigating the situation, but failed to respond to DVB’s request for confirmation.

Both Gayoom and Yameen strenuously deny the charges. Gayoom claims that the investigation is an attempt to “tarnish [his] reputation” following his party’s recent success in local elections in the Maldives. Yameen meanwhile described the charges as “absolute rubbish”, according to the Minivan News.

The Gayoom regime was unseated in a 2008 election and replaced by the government of Mohamed Nasheed, who had been a political prisoner under Gayoom. The former president had been Asia’s longest serving head of state after coming to power in 1978.

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