US Cuts Off Burma Over Money Laundering
By KYAW ZWA MOE Thursday, November 20, 2003

The US government said Burma is a center for money laundering, naming two of the country’s biggest banks as culprits. A report from the US Treasury Department yesterday said Myanmar Mayflower Bank and Asia Wealth Bank were of "primary money laundering concern". The US government said: "These two institutions have been linked to narcotics trafficking organizations in Southeast Asia." Staff at the headquarters of the two banks in Rangoon today refused to comment on the report. Myanmar Mayflower Bank Chairman Kyaw Win is reportedly a close friend of former drug lord Khun Sa. Asia Wealth Bank Vice-Chairman Aik Htun, an ethnic Kokang, is also said to be involved in the drug trade. In June 2002, the Burmese regime introduced anti-money laundering laws to charge people profiting from illicit activities such as drug trafficking, acts of terror, cyber-crimes and the smuggling of women and children. This is not the first time the US government has moved to isolate Burma financially this year. Washington placed tough sanctions on Burma in July after the junta’s violent crackdown on opposition supporters in May. Washington banned Burmese imports to the US, froze the American assets of the junta and imposed a visa ban on regime members, their families and close associates. Sanctions have heavily impacted business and trade, and complicated financial transactions by effectively banning the use of US currency in Burma. The reprimand for money laundering will force American banks to cease all financial dealings with Burma, but it is unclear what impact yesterday’s measures will have with sanctions already in place. The US government said it is committed to cracking down on money laundering wherever it occurs. This is the third time the US Treasury has used one its most powerful tools under the Patriot Act, enacted after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept 11, 2001. Earlier this month, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, representing the 31 nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), called on all of its member states to impose financial sanctions on Burma.

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