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Singapore acknowledges 138 Singapore-based entities involved in Myanmar’s military junta supply chain amid international probe

As investigations continue, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan confirmed that 138 Singapore-based entities have been identified as participants in the supply chain to Myanmar’s military.

Minister Balakrishnan provided these responses in a written answer on Monday (3 July) to Parliamentary Questions submitted by Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) Dennis Tan and PAP MP Vikram Nair over the report published on 17 May by Tom Andrews, the United Nations Special Rapporteur in Myanmar, which alleged implication of Singapore companies or entities based in Singapore in the sales of dual-use items, raw materials, and spare parts with military-related uses.

Mr. Tan inquired about the involvement of Singapore-based banks in financing such transactions, including trade financing, and the actions taken or being taken against these banks while Mr Nair sought an update on the government’s investigation into the report’s allegations.

In response, Minister Balakrishnan revealed that additional 91 entities were identified for involvement in supplying Myanmar’s military. These findings supplement the initial list of 47 entities recently named by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Myanmar.

Nine of the identified entities are no longer registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, rendering them unable to operate as legal entities or conduct business in Singapore.

Among these entities are those allegedly engaged in the transfer of components, spare parts for fighter aircraft, equipment for the Myanmar Navy, as well as radios, research, and equipment for electronic warfare.

Regarding the initial list of 47 entities, Minister Balakrishnan clarified that most of them no longer maintain business relationships with Singapore banks.

However, the remaining accounts will undergo review by the banks, which will implement appropriate measures, including enhanced scrutiny, to ensure that transactions processed by these entities are not suspicious.

“Such measures would curtail their ability to continue with any undesirable business.”

Minister Balakrishnan: Singapore’s financial institutions strengthen due diligence for Myanmar-related customers and transactions

Minister Balakrishnan assured that as Myanmar is on the Financial Action Task Force’s blacklist, financial institutions in Singapore have implemented enhanced due diligence for customers and transactions linked to Myanmar, which present higher risks.

“We are looking into specific details of the alleged US$254 million worth of “arms and related goods” that were shipped through Singapore-based entities to the Myanmar military. ”

Dr. Balakrishnan highlighted that the report by Mr. Andrews does not indicate specific armaments being transferred to the Myanmar military.

Instead, under the category of “arms”, what was cited were only spare parts and equipment, without details of what these constituted.

The other major categories of items covered in the report included “dual-use supplies” which included items such as computers, electrical components, and medical equipment.

Another category of items was “manufacturing equipment” which comprised items like welding machines and overhead cranes; and “raw materials” which covered items such as steel beams and aluminum ingots, pipes and valves, and fabric.

“Members would appreciate from these descriptions that the items do not necessarily constitute “arms” or weaponry in its ordinary meaning. Many of them such as computers and medical equipment are also non-controlled items.”

“It is difficult to isolate specific suspicious transactions from such broad categories, ” he said.

“We are therefore seeking more details such as export transaction documents to ascertain how these transactions are connected to the manufacture of weapons in Myanmar so that our checks and investigations can be more thorough, and effective based on objective evidence.”

No plans to hinder legitimate trade with Myanmar

Dr. Balakrishnan reiterated that it is not the Singapore Government’s policy intention to block legitimate trade with Myanmar as doing so would further set back the country’s development and exacerbate the suffering of the civilian population of Myanmar.

“We do not want to add to the suffering of Myanmar’s civilian population. In 2022, Singapore’s total bilateral trade with Myanmar was S$5.8 billion. ”

“The allegations in the May 2023 report by UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar Thomas Andrews pertain to supposedly US$254 million worth of goods over a two-year period.”

Nonetheless, Minister Balakrishnan said the Singapore government takes Mr Andrews’ report very seriously and has requested him to provide specific and verifiable evidence to aid our efforts.

Singapore Government denies involvement in recent military sales to Myanmar

“Finally, I would like to re-state categorically that the Singapore Government has not conducted any military sales to the Myanmar military in recent years, including during the period covered in Mr. Andrews’ report – that is, between February 2021 and December 2022.”

Minister Balakrishnan noted that Mr. Andrews himself reaffirmed in his report that “there are no indications the Government of Singapore has approved, or is involved in, the shipment of arms and associated materials to the Myanmar military.”

“We will continue to work closely and constructively with Mr Andrews to seek specific, verifiable, and where possible court admissible information to advance our investigations.”

Minister Balakrishnan reiterate that the Singapore Government remains committed to implementing our policy to prevent the transfer of arms and dual-use items which have been assessed to have potential military application to Myanmar, where there is serious risk that they may be used to inflict violence against unarmed civilians.

“We will not hesitate to take action against any individual or entity which contravenes this,” the Minister reassured.

OHCHR report shed light on the crucial role of Singapore

The comprehensive report, titled “The Billion Dollar Death Trade: International Arms Networks that Enable Human Rights Violations in Myanmar,” provides evidence that Myanmar’s military has imported at least $1 billion USD worth of arms and raw materials for the manufacturing of weapons.

The brutal attack on Pazigyi Village in the Sagaing Region on 11 April 2023, which resulted in the death of approximately 170 people, including 40 children, is a chilling testament to the devastating impact of unrestricted arms trade with the Myanmar military.

The report highlighted that entities in Singapore are critical to the operation of Myanmar’s Directorate of Defense Industries’ weapons factories (commonly referred to as KaPaSa, the Burmese acronym for DDI).

Singapore is named in the report as a significant jurisdiction for the transit of spare parts, raw materials, and manufacturing equipment.

Between February 2021 and December 2022, $254 million USD worth of supplies were dispatched from various Singaporean entities to the Myanmar military, often involving Singaporean banks.

MFA previously denied Singapore’s involvement in arms trade with Myanmar

Despite these revelations, Andrews clarified that he had received no information indicating that the Singapore Government has approved, or is involved in, the arms transfers.

The Special Rapporteur has decided not to list the names of Singaporean entities transferring arms to the Myanmar military in order to allow time for the Singapore Government and other UN Member States to take action.

The Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) responded emphatically to these claims in May, insisting that it prohibits the transfer of arms and dual-use items to Myanmar, and has not been involved in the shipment of arms and related materials to the Myanmar military.

The MFA Spokesperson stated: “UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews noted in his report that the Singapore Government prohibits the transfer of arms to Myanmar. There are no indications the Government of Singapore has approved, or is involved in, the shipment of arms and associated materials to the Myanmar military.”

The MFA Spokesperson reiterated Singapore’s principled stance against the Myanmar military’s use of lethal force against unarmed civilians, and highlighted its commitment to preventing the flow of arms into Myanmar as per United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution A/RES/75/287 “The Situation in Myanmar”.

The spokesperson also noted that MFA appreciates the Special Rapporteur’s efforts to provide information to aid Singapore’s investigations into whether any offences were committed under Singapore law.

The Singapore government has previously voiced its policy to “prohibit the transfer of arms to Myanmar” and has pledged not to approve the transfer of dual-use items that could potentially have military applications in Myanmar.

Andrews contended that if Singapore were to halt all shipments and facilitation of arms and associated materials to the Myanmar military, it would significantly disrupt the junta’s capacity to commit war crimes.

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