Amnesty: UK government must investigate Rio Tinto for sanctions-busting in Burma
Human rights group Amnesty International has called on the British government to investigate mining giant Rio Tinto's role in possible sanctions-busting in Burma. The allegations relate to the company's involvement in the controversial Monywa copper mine project, which Amnesty alleges has been characterised by serious human rights abuses and a lack of transparency.
The claims were made on 16th April, the day of Rio Tinto's Annual General Meeting in London.
According to an article published on Amnesty's website, Rio Tinto has been a major shareholder in Canadian-based Ivanhoe Mines (now Turquoise Hill Resources) and has had a controlling stake in the company since 2012. Rio Tinto is said to have set up the Monywa Trust, which enabled Ivanhoe to divest from the Monywa mine in 2011. At that time Rio Tinto owned 46.5% of Ivanhoe’s shares and appointed half of its Directors.
Amnesty is said to have received information that the Trust's sale of Ivanhoe’s stake “could have involved a breach of economic sanctions on Myanmar, by making assets available to the military-owned conglomerate the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding (UMEHL) and Tay Za, a ‘broker’ for the Myanmar government.”
Amnesty International UK’s Economic Relations Programme Director Peter Frankental said:
“Rio Tinto’s role in the creation of this trust raises serious questions about whether the company was involved in activities which may have had the effect of circumventing EU economic sanctions, a criminal offence under UK law.
“Rio Tinto has a responsibility to its shareholders. As they meet in London today, the shareholders should demand that Rio Tinto disclose full details of all transactions related to the Trust and the divestment of Ivanhoe’s interest in the Monywa project.
“If as Rio Tinto claims there was no breach of sanctions, then what does the company have to hide?”
The Monywa Project
A report released by Amnesty in February 2015 exposed serious human rights violations and illegal activity committed by the Burmese authorities in relation to the Monywa project, including large-scale forced evictions. Community protests have been met with excessive use of force by the police on multiple occasions, according to Amnesty.
The Monywa Trust was set up in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven or “secrecy jurisdiction” territory of the United Kingdom. Secrecy provisions which exist in the territory were reportedly utilised to keep details of the sale secret.