In a May 19 court judgment that went almost unnoticed, Pye Phyo Tay Za, the son of junta-linked businessman Tay Za, lost a legal bid to have EU sanctions against him overturned and was ordered to pay the court costs for the Council of the European Union.
Pye Phyo had argued that he is neither a member of Burma’s military government nor associated with it, and does not benefit from “the administration of that government.” His lawyers, London-based law firm Carter-Ruck, claimed that “neither the applicant [Pye Phyo] nor his father received any benefits from the regime.”
But Tay Za is widely-regarded as having built a multifaceted, multi-billion dollar business empire based on close connections with Burma’s ruling military, including junta-chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe.
And in a statement that may have undermined Pye Phyo’s own case, his lawyers also argued that, “the fact that the applicant is the son of a person whom the Council considers to have benefited from the military regime of Myanmar [Burma] does not give him the requisite connection with that regime.”
Similarly, Pye Phyo claimed that his two-year shareholding in two of Tay Za’s Singapore-listed companies, “does not show that he benefited from any advantages that his father’s companies may have received from the military regime in Myanmar.”
In rebutting the contention that neither Tay Za nor his son Pye Phyo benefit from the regime, the opposing lawyers said: “As regards family members of such leading business figures, it may be presumed that they benefit from the functions exercised by those businessmen, so that there is nothing to prevent the conclusion that such family members also benefit from the economic policies of the government.”
In light of fears that Pye Phyo’s attempt to have EU sanctions against him lifted was a ruse to enable Tay Za to find a way around sanctions, the Council said that, “the applicant was aware of the reasons for which such restrictive measures specifically apply to him, since he states in paragraph 37 of the originating application that there may be a risk of his father circumventing the freeze on his own assets by transferring his funds to other family members.”
Pye Phyo contended that he “does not frustrate the process of national reconciliation, respect for human rights or the democratization of Myanmar,” reminding the Council that he has not been involved in politics or government inside Burma.
But his younger brother, Htet Tay Za, reportedly bragged in a notorious 2007 email, sent in response to new US sanctions on the junta, that even though “the US bans us, we’re still [expletive deleted] cool in Singapore. We’re sitting on the whole Burma GDP. We’ve got timber, gems and gas to be sold to other countries like Singapore, China, India and Russia.”
Tay Za often flies to Singapore on business, where both Pye Pho and Htet were schooled. Two large banks in the city-state—OCBC and DBS—have denied functioning as repositories for billions of dollars of gas revenues derived from the Yadana pipeline project.
According to Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK, the case and outcome “gives an indication that stronger, carefully targeted sanctions could have an impact,” but adds that carrots should be put on the table as well as an incentive toward reform.
EU sanctions on Burma were renewed under the rubric of the “Common Position” recently. The measures are criticized for being weak and insufficiently-well targeted in some quarters, while elsewhere it is argued that sanctions have not pushed the junta toward reform, and so a new “engagement” approach is needed.
Still others say that it is not sanctions per se that are the problem, but the role of government and business in China, India, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, all of which offer political and commercial alternatives to the junta and thereby undermine the sanctions.
Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group | www.irrawaddy.orgShow