British banks under pressure over £45m loans to firm with links to Myanmar military
22 Dec 2020

Human rights groups are demanding that two of Britain’s biggest banks explain why they have lent tens of millions of pounds to a technology company building a telecoms network that is part-owned and used by the Myanmar military.

HSBC and Standard Chartered have loaned $60m (£44.5m) to Vietnamese telecom giant Viettel in the last four years, a period when the Myanmar military has been accused of committing war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Viettel is a major investor in Mytel, a Myanmar mobile network that, since its launch in June 2018, has grown to become the second-biggest operator in the country with over 10 million users.

A Myanmar state-owned enterprise, Star High Co Ltd, a subsidiary of the military-operated Myanmar Economic Corporation, has a 28% stake in the network; Viettel’s international telecommunications investment subsidiary, Viettel Global JSC, controls 49%; and Myanmar National Telecom Holdings, representing a group of Myanmar companies, owns 23%. The shareholding structure, which confirms Mytel is a major revenue generator for the Myanmar military, is revealed in a report by the campaign group Justice For Myanmar (JFM).

The report, based on open-source material and a trove of documents that emerged when a Viettel subsidiary accidentally published online internal files relating to the company’s operations in Myanmar, reveals how Mytel has been upgrading the Myanmar military’s infrastructure, including the army’s network of fibre-optic cables.

The links between Mytel and the military are well established. Major General Thaw Lwin, director of the military’s Directorate of Signals, who has responsibility for its infrastructure, is a director of Mytel. A Viettel subsidiary is leading the construction of at least 38 Mytel network towers located in Myanmar military bases.

The report also claims that Viettel units, under the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defence, are mining user-data for analysis in Vietnam. It alleges that the Myanmar military has access to the data, opening up the possibility it could be used for military purposes.

By Jamie Doward, The Guardian, 20 December 2020

Read more at The Guardian

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