By Francis Wade
Assets belonging to Canadian mining giant Ivanhoe Mines may have been transferred to a Chinese weapons manufacturer following its takeover last year of a copper mine in northern Burma, campaigners say.
If validated, the move could be in violation of both US and Canadian sanctions on Burma, said Tin Maung Htoo, executive director of Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB). The group has closely monitored the takeover of the Monywa copper mine last year by Norinco, one of China’s biggest arms companies that is known to have supplied heavy weaponry to the Burmese army.
Monywa is Burma’s biggest mine, located in the country’s northern Sagaing division. Until February 2007, it had been run by the Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Company Limited (MICCL), of which Ivanhoe Mines held a 50 percent stake that it claimed was transferred to a body known as The Monywa Trust, a blind trust, after the pull out.
Ivanhoe said in reply to a query from CFOB that it had “disposed” of its 50 percent stake, and that The Monywa Trust was still looking for buyers. It stated that it no longer has any involvement in the project.
What really became of these assets is questioned by CFOB, which is suspicious of the secrecy surrounding the trust, and which fears they may been transferred to Norinco via the blacklisted Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH). The UMEH is controlled by the Burmese military and covers the mining rights for three of the Monywa deposits.
“If indeed the blacklisted entity UMEH obtained Ivanhoe’s stake in Monywa and resold it to Norinco, this would violate both Canadian and US sanctions,” said Tin Maung Htoo in a statement on Tuesday. “Ivanhoe must be punished financially for any illegality that may have happened.”
Norinco and MICCL are also the target of international sanctions – both the EU and US have blacklisted MICCL, with the EU citing its “key financial backing” of the then ruling junta, while Norinco was placed under US sanctions in 2003 for selling missiles to Iran.
Controversy followed the announcement in June last year that Norinco would be taking over the Monywa project. Weeks before the contract was agreed, senior Burmese officials travelled to China to inspect shipments of howitzer cannons that were then transported to Burma via sea-routes.
It appeared to corroborate allegations by campaign groups such as CFOB that the copper deal was sweetened by arms sales to Burma. Financial details of the Monywa deal have been vague, but at its peak the mine had been producing some 39,000 tonnes of copper per year, and was among Burma’s most profitable assets.