Myanmar's formerly blacklisted businessman urges US to delist others

Myanmar's formerly blacklisted businessman urges US to delist others
Construction underway in Yangon, Myanmar's former capital

YANGON - The first Myanmar businessman to be removed from a US blacklist since the country emerged from military rule said on Thursday that the United States should delist more people so they can partner with American companies to develop the economy.

Win Aung and his two companies, Dagon International Ltd and Dagon Timber Ltd, were the first to be taken off the blacklist since Washington started to ease a near-total ban on business with Myanmar in 2012 after a semi-civilian government took power the previous year.

Dozens of Myanmar businessmen remain on the sanctions list, and Win Aung said he hoped that those who meet the US Treasury Department's criteria could be removed soon.

"If they can create more business, they can create more job opportunities," he said in his first interview since the April 24 delisting.

Once one of the most developed countries in the region, Myanmar's economy was eviscerated by mismanagement and corruption during 49 years of military rule.

Western countries further isolated the Southeast Asian nation by imposing sanctions in response to human rights abuses.

Myanmar launched widespread economic and political reforms in 2011, convincing the United States and other Western countries to suspend most sanctions. But many in Myanmar now feel the reform process has stalled.

The US sanctions regime included the entire government as well as businessmen such as Win Aung, who were accused of providing financial support to the junta.

The Treasury Department is not required to provide information about why someone is placed on the blacklist to the public or even to the individual, but classified diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks provide some clues.

The cables allege that Win Aung illegally exported US$5 million (S$6.6 million) worth of teak logs to China, and used connections to ruling generals to win lucrative contracts to help build Naypyitaw, the capital that was constructed secretly and unveiled by the regime in 2005.

"I find a lot of the information in the Wikileaks is not correct," Win Aung said.

He said the regime ordered most construction companies in Myanmar to build at least two buildings in Naypyitaw, which he did.

He said he has never exported logs to China and provided Treasury with company records to prove it.

The US State Department statement gave no details on why Win Aung was removed from the list, but his former lawyer, John Viverito, told Reuters that Win Aung's willingness to open his company's books was likely a main factor.

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