Accessibility links

Breaking News

Australia-Linked Mining Companies Funding Myanmar Junta, Report Says


FILE - Workers move pieces of extracted marble from a marble mine in Sagyin, Mandalay, Myanmar, Feb. 15, 2019.
FILE - Workers move pieces of extracted marble from a marble mine in Sagyin, Mandalay, Myanmar, Feb. 15, 2019.

Australia-linked mining and related companies operating in Myanmar are contributing to military government funding, according to a new report.

Justice for Myanmar, an activist group that focuses on campaigning against military-rule, says the mining companies listed in a new report titled “Mines Against Humanity” remain active and create revenue for the military. That activity, the report says, aids the junta in its attacks on opposition forces in the country.

Myanmar has been in chaos since military leader General Min Aung Hlaing and his military forces overthrew the democratically elected government in February 2021.

The coup sparked mass protests and armed revolution against military rule, which includes the civilian-led National Unity Government, the People’s Defense Force and ethnic armed groups. Fighting has intensified in recent months and most say the country is now in a civil war.

According to the report, there are at least 10 Australian-linked firms that remain active in mining and related services in Myanmar. Some are registered in Australia while in other cases Australian nationals are part owners in firms registered in Myanmar or another country.

“It is unacceptable that three years after the military’s illegal coup attempt, Australia is still failing to take necessary action to block the junta’s sources of funds from mining and other lucrative sectors,” says Justice for Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung.

The ventures listed include mining and mine servicing companies Valentis Group; Cornerstone Resources; Asia Pacific Mining Ltd.;, Access Asia Mining; Georesources Group and PSI Drilling Ltd; PanAust Ltd.; Knight Piesold; Australian Laboratory Services Ltd.; and Golden Land & Mining Services.

The list also includes Mission Legal, a law firm serving the mining industry, and Mining Watch Myanmar, a charity focused on promoting responsible mining in Myanmar which in 2022 acknowledged campaigning to get the Australian and Myanmar governments to help the mining industry.

All companies were contacted by Justice for Myanmar, who questioned their business status in Myanmar, payments to the military government and entities, and what human rights due diligence they had implemented since the coup. Several of the mining firms didn’t respond to the emails, while others indirectly answered, Justice for Myanmar told VOA.

Michael Phin, Valentis Group COO & CFO, rejected the findings by Justice for Myanmar in written comments to VOA.

“JFM’s report is false, baseless, and scurrilous. Valentis has never derived any revenue from any mining or mineral extraction activities in Myanmar. As there was never any revenue from mining or mineral extraction activities, no mining royalties or mining taxes have ever been paid. Importantly, Valentis Asia has already exited from Myanmar following the divestment in 2022 of our Myanmar operating subsidiaries,” Phin wrote.

In documents seen by VOA, Knight Piesold, a global consulting firm that operates in over a dozen countries, acknowledged it still carries out minimal work in Myanmar in response to Justice for Myanmar’s questions.

David Morgan, Managing Director at the company’s Australia office in Perth, stated in emails to the activist group that Knight Piesold was appointed as a consultant by Chinese-owned Myanmar Wanbao Mining Company Ltd in 2013.

Their job was to conduct an environment and social impact assessment for two mines in Myanmar. Morgan insisted that his company had not physically extracted any materials and said that since 2020, the company’s services have been limited to environmental issues. He said the company provided a closure plan for one of the mines in 2023.

PanAust, an Australian incorporated gold and copper producer that is owned by Chinese state-firm Guangdong Rising H.K. Holding Ltd, states in its annual business and sustainability report for 2022 that it had ceased “all mineral exploration activities” in Myanmar from February 2021 but continues to honor its contractual financial obligations.

In a statement to the news site Guardian Australia, PanAust said it has “decided to exit Myanmar and is in the process of withdrawing.”

“We expect that this may take several months. In the meantime, our focus is on continuing to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our people on the ground in Myanmar,” the company said.

Yadanar Maung says Australia needs to take action.

“Australia shamefully stands out among Western countries for the heavy engagement of its citizens and businesses in Myanmar’s mining sector, despite the junta’s illegal control of natural resources and the sector’s links to grave human rights abuses and environmental destruction," she told VOA.

The U.S., Canada, Britain and the EU have all imposed a variety of sanctions on Myanmar’s military regime and its entities in recent years in efforts to stop its violent crackdown.

But the conflict continues. Over 4,400 people have been killed by the military and over 25,000 people arrested since the military seized power, according to rights groups. The U.N. says the number of displaced people in Myanmar since the coup has exceeded 2 million.

The conflict has also seen Myanmar’s economy heavily decline and is now 10% lower than it was in 2019. Myanmar is the only country in East Asia that hasn’t recovered its economy to pre-pandemic levels, with little growth expected in 2024 according to a report by the World Bank.

But the junta is still able to continue its crackdown on the opposition partly because of the foreign revenue it receives from various enterprises. Myanmar's mining industry is crucial to the country’s economy, contributing to 5.4% of Myanmar’s gross domestic product in 2019, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Yadanar Maung called for Australia to sanction these mining networks to prevent them from operating with the Myanmar military.

“Australia has failed to respond to the urgent need to cut funds to the Myanmar military junta. Australia’s inaction is undermining the efforts of its allies such as the U.S. and Canada, which have sanctioned the junta and its mining enterprises. Australia should stop dragging its feet, catch up with the sanctions long imposed by its allies and actively move to block the junta’s sources of funds, including from mining,” she added.

Myanmar is rich in resources, and mining projects include the extraction of jade, ruby, gold, silver, tin, zinc and limestone. The country is also ranked as the fifth largest producer of rare earth elements the world.

According to the U.S. Treasury, the state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, or MOGE, is the junta’s largest single source of foreign revenue. The U.S. imposed sanctions on MOGE that came into effect in December that prohibit U.S. financial organizations from offering services to the enterprise.