Singapore developer probed over links to Myanmar military, Yangon megaproject

Computer rendering of the Golden City development in Yangon. Photo: ETC Singapore
Computer rendering of the Golden City development in Yangon. Photo: ETC Singapore

A Singapore firm said to have erected what were Myanmar’s tallest buildings in 2016 has voluntarily suspended trading of its shares amid allegations it financed Myanmar’s military. 

Emerging Towns & Cities Singapore announced the move late last night in response to questions by Singapore Exchange regulators, saying that it was done to clear the way for an independent review of its dealings in Myanmar in light of what it dismissed as “unsubstantiated and unverified” claims.

“The Board is mindful of the safety of its employees, especially its staff in Myanmar, and is committed to provide more clarity on the unsubstantiated and unverified allegation against the Company,” Executive Director Tan Thiam Hee wrote.

He said the review would look into “contractual payments to the Myanmar government ministries and departments” as well as funds it has raised in recent years.

It comes after Burmese pro-democracy group Justice for Myanmar said late last month that its massive Golden City development in Yangon, which houses many large Chinese multinationals, was channeling “millions of dollars to the office of … the military’s department which buys weapons of war that are used on the people of Myanmar in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.” It said the capital behind the project was raised through the Singapore exchange, which it accused of financing violations of “international human rights and international humanitarian law.”

The suspension could delay its bid to float 1.3 billion shares, as it had sought to raise capital for future projects in January, prior to the coup. Shares in Emerging Towns & Cities (SGX:1C0) were trading at $.034 as of early afternoon trading, unchanged from yesterday. The firm has a relatively low market capitalization of $33.39 million.

The single-asset company confirmed last night that it had built the luxury property in 2019 on land leased from Myanmar’s military. The lease payments, it said, should have gone to the nation’s coffers rather than be retained by the Ministry of Defense, under the law.

Report ‘unverified’

The developer said Justice for Myanmar added “unverified conjecture” to publicly available information about its operations. Amid a lengthy recap of its development process, it denied that the property contained a ballroom used by the children of junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, as alleged. 

The company also said it was not taking any political stance and that its decision to voluntarily suspend trading wasn’t an admission of guilt.

“The Company wishes to emphasise that the request for voluntary suspension by the Company should not be taken to imply that there has been any wrong-doing on the part of the Company; the request for voluntary suspension is to ensure information which would be important to shareholders is made available to ensure orderly trading in the Company’s securities,” it said. 

According to its website, the company was established in 1980 and Golden City was its only project. It has a 49% stake in the Golden Land Real Estate venture, with the remaining held by Uni Global Power and Myanmar’s Nature Link. Golden City has nearly  280,000sqm of floor area in its 33-story towers in Yangon’s upscale Yankin Township. 

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