Big banks face scrutiny over business with Myanmar lender | Banks News

Large banks, including Australia’s ANZ, have continued to do business with the bank owned by Myanmar’s military administration despite bloody crackdown on anti-coup protests, according to an advocacy group and leaked documents.

ANZ, one of Australia’s “big four” banks, was used by Hong Kong-based insurer AIA to transfer funds to Inwa Bank, which is owned by military conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), between August and September 2021. In May, Myanmar’s justice said, citing leaked bank documents.

Malaysian company edotco, which leases towers to Myanmar-based mobile operator Mytel, also used ANZ to transact with Inva Bank accounts in April and June 2021, according to an activist group report released on Wednesday.

Singapore’s UOB, one of the largest banks in Southeast Asia, facilitated a transaction between a Chinese shipping firm and MEC in June and July last year,

The Singapore lender was also used for transactions between Myanmar-based Lamintyre, a supplier of powdered milk, and several of its executives.

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Meanwhile, BIDV, a joint-owned lender of the State Bank of Vietnam and South Korea’s KEB Hana Bank, carried out at least 18 transactions with Telecom International Myanmar, which is owned by MEC, according to Myanmar’s justice.

Closeup of a blue ANZ sign with white lettering and a hazy background of a rainy sidewalk, with a woman walking by holding a red umbrella
According to leaked documents, ANZ, one of Australia’s “Big Four” banks, has been used to transfer funds to Myanmar’s military-owned Inwa Bank. [File: Tim Wimborne/Reuters]

The leaked documents from Inva Bank were obtained and published online by Distributed Denial of Secrets, a self-described transparency collective that regularly releases hacked information from governments and businesses.

An ANZ spokesman said the bank was closely monitoring the situation in Myanmar.

“ANZ must comply with all applicable laws in all jurisdictions in which it operates, including those required by super-national organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union,” the spokesperson told Al Jazeera.

“While we are unable to comment on specific relationships or transactions, ANZ has robust procedures in place to ensure that all activities are compliant with applicable regulations. These processes are in line with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force.”

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A spokesman for UOB said the bank could not comment on individual customer relationships, but would implement “enhanced due diligence on customer relationships and transactions involving Myanmar, where applicable.”

“We are monitoring the situation closely and, at the same time, ensuring compliance with local and international rules and regulations,” the spokesman told Al Jazeera.

“While implementing increased due diligence measures, we will ensure that the flow of funds for humanitarian aid, legitimate nonprofit organization activity and remittances is not disrupted.”

Al Jazeera contacted BIDV, AIA and KEB Hana Bank for comment.

According to a 2019 independent fact-finding mission by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Inwa Bank has been instrumental in enabling Myanmar military-owned corporations to maintain access to the international banking system amid United States sanctions.

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While the European Union, the United Kingdom and the US have imposed sanctions on the MEC over the 2021 military coup, major economies such as Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea have not acted against the group.

Justice for Myanmar said the international banks’ business with Inwa Bank reflects “the failure of governments to adopt a coordinated approach to isolate military groups and cut off the junta’s sources of revenue”.

“Banks should immediately ban transactions with Myanmar’s military banks, or risk exposure to junta transnational crimes,” the activist group said.

Myanmar’s military administration has killed more than 2,400 civilians since the overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in February 2021, according to activists.


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