Report on corporate crime and abuses at Myanmar copper minePublished by MAC on 2015-02-13
Source: Statement, The Irrawaddy (2015-02-20)
As we announced earlier (see last article in Burma's war over jade - is there a Chinese link?), Amnesty International has issued its report on the complicity of a Chinese mining company and the Burmese military in human rights offences and environmental despoliation at the Letpadaung site in Burma.
It also briefly traces the history of the original Monywa project, predecessor of the Letpadaung expansion, accusing the then-owner, Ivanhoe Mines, of "potentially" breaching economic sanctions then in place against Burma.
Unfortunately the report does not particularly stress the role of Rio Tinto in helping Ivanhoe set up a trust in the British Virgin Islands so it could then get out of Burma, and the fact that Rio Tinto was the biggest single shareholder in Ivanhoe at this time. MAC published an earlier report in August 2011, exposing Rio Tinto's role in setting up the "trust of convenience", and itself profiting from its 46% share of Ivanhoe while these alleged deals with military and security personnel in China and Burma were being made. See: Outrage at Ivanhoe-Rio Tinto's dirty Burma deal
The Amnesty report does, however, reflect on the UK's position on EU Conflict Minerals Regulation. because the report relates to a mineral (copper) outside those covered by the proposed EU Directive - Tin, Tantalum, Tungsten and Gold - and reinforces the need for a mandatory approach to enhanced due diligence when operating in conflict-affected or high-risk areas (as outlined in Re-defining "conflict minerals" - an important new report). The report includes a recommendation to all governments to require companies to undertake adequate human rights due diligence throughout their global operations, as well as enhanced due diligence prior to undertaking any investment or operations in Myanmar.
Amnesty's online action allows people to send a letter to the Canadian government demanding an investigation - http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1770&ea.campaign.id=35457
The full report can be downloaded here - http://www.amnesty.ca/sites/default/files/amnesty_letpadaung_-_final_report.pdf
Myanmar: Canadian mining company colluding in serious abuses and illegality
Amnesty International news release
9 February 2015
Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines Limited and Chinese mining interests have profited from, and in some cases colluded with the Myanmar authorities in serious human rights abuses and illegal activity around the Monywa copper mine complex, which includes the notorious Letpadaung mine, Amnesty International said in a report released today.
Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine describes how large-scale forced evictions and serious pollution linked to the mine have destroyed livelihoods and exposed thousands of people to health risks. Community protests have been met with excessive force by police, including, on one occasion, the use of white phosphorous, a highly toxic and explosive substance.
The report presents extensive new evidence uncovered through Amnesty International’s research, including serious allegations of wrongdoing and complicity in human rights abuses by Ivanhoe Mines. Amnesty International has found evidence of illegal activity including possible breaches of economic sanctions by the company, and is calling on the Canadian government to ensure these serious concerns are fully investigated.
“This report is a disturbing reminder that Canadian companies, particularly in the extractive sector, can and do become drawn into serious human rights abuses associated with their operations abroad,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. “This is one more shocking wake-up call that underscores the crucial need for meaningful Canadian law and policy reforms to better ensure that Canadian companies uphold their human rights responsibilities, no matter where they explore, dig or drill.”
“Myanmar offers the perfect storm of a rich natural resource base, a weak legal system and an economy dominated by military and special interests. The government has forcibly evicted people, crushed all attempts at peaceful protest and displayed a complete unwillingness to hold companies to account,” said Seema Joshi, Amnesty International’s Business and Human Rights Researcher.
“Ivanhoe Mines’ Monywa project is a cautionary tale on investment in Myanmar, where corporate projects are too often marked by abuses and communities are ripped apart in the pursuit of profit. Construction of the Letpadaung mine must be halted immediately until rights issues have been addressed.”
Amnesty International’s report includes evidence of
* Thousands of people forcibly evicted in the 1990s without any compensation in violation of international law, to make way for investment by Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines (now Turquoise Hill Resources); the company knew their investment would lead to the evictions, yet did nothing. It profited from more than a decade of copper mining, carried out in partnership with Myanmar’s military government, without attempting to address the thousands left destitute.
* Ivanhoe acquired an older, state-owned mining operation. The mine area had severe pollution from hazardous waste material. Ivanhoe Mines did not clean-up up the area and there was no monitoring of the site. There was no investigation into the effects of the pollution of the highly agricultural area by heavy metal and acid rock drainage. The pollution produced severe health risks. It appears that Ivanhoe Mines used the mining and production facilities of the old operation and benefitted financially from the use of such facilities without managing the environmental risks.
* Ivanhoe Mines was involved through its Monywa investment , in the sale of copper to a “who’s-who” of the Myanmar military. These sales took place when economic sanctions were still in force. Ivanhoe lied publically about the copper sales, and its subsidiary may have breached UK economic sanctions.
* When Ivanhoe Mines divested from Myanmar it did so in a highly secretive process involving legal entities in the British Virgin Islands to create the Monywa Trust in 2007. Amnesty International’s investigation found evidence that Ivanhoe Mines and legal entities associated with the company may have breached Canadian and UK economic sanctions during the divestment. The organization is calling on Canada and the UK to initiate criminal investigations into the issue.
* Thousands more people have been forcibly evicted since 2011 to make way for the Letpadaung mine, which is run by Chinese company Wanbao and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEHL), the economic arm of the Myanmar military. Wanbao directly engaged in forced evictions, and colluded with the authorities, including by providing bulldozers to destroy crops.
* In November 2012 security forces used white phosphorous, a highly toxic explosive substance, in a deliberate attack on villagers and monks who were protesting the negative impacts of the Letpadaung mine. More than 100 people were injured, with some suffering horrific burns and lifelong disability. Part of the attack was launched from inside the Wanbao company compound. The use of white phosphorous by the security forces against the protestors constituted torture – a crime under international law.
* In December 2014 one woman died and several other people were injured when police opened fire on protestors at the Letpadaung site. Protests against the mine have repeatedly been met by excessive use of force by police.
* The military-owned conglomerate UMEHL illegally operated a sulphuric acid factory linked to the Monywa mine for six years. When this was exposed, the factory was approved by the authorities, who made no attempt to take punitive action against UMEHL.
“The people living around Monwya and Letpadaung have suffered more than two decades of abuse linked to the business operations of Canadian, Myanmar and now Chinese corporations. Investment can help Myanmar, but this project benefits the companies while harming the people,” said Alex Neve.
Amnesty International calls for:
* Investigations by Canada and China into the activities of Ivanhoe Mines and Wanbao in Myanmar.
* Canadian and UK authorities to investigate whether Ivanhoe Mines and related legal entities breached Canadian and/or UK economic sanctions.
* All construction of the Letpadaung mine to be halted until the abuses are addressed.
* Investigations by the Myanmar authorities into the police response to protests at Letpadaung, including the use of while phosphorous and the role played by Wanbao in allowing the police to use a company compound to launch part of the attack.
* The Myanmar authorities to provide adequate compensation and resettlement to people who were forcibly evicted and to reform its legal framework to better protect rights of mine-affected communities.
The Monywa project comprises the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) and the Letpadaung copper mines. S&K has been operational since the 1980s. Letpadaung is under construction.
In 1996 Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. Entered into a joint venture with a Myanmar state company, Mining Enterprise No. 1 (ME1), to set up the Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Company Limited (MICCL), in which both held a 50 per cent interest. MICCL operated the S&K mine.
In 2007 Ivanhoe Mines decided to divest from Myanmar and established a third-party-Trust to which its Myanmar assets were transferred.
In 2010 it was announced that China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) and UMEHL had entered into an agreement about the Monywa project, which includes both S&K and Letpadaung mines. Subsidiaries of Wanbao Mining Ltd (owned by NORINCO) operate both mines today The process by which the ME1-Ivanhoe Mines assets transferred to the China-Myanmar military partnership of Wanbao-UMHEL has never
Amnesty International approached the companies named in this report for comments on the allegations against them. Where responses were provided, these have been incorporated in the report.
For more information, please contact: Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations 416-363-9933 ext 332 firstname.lastname@example.org
Urgent action available here - www.amnesty.ca/get-involved/take-action-now/myanmar-release-four-detained-after-mining-project-protests
Report: Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine - http://www.amnesty.ca/sites/default/files/asa160032015en.pdf
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‘Evidence of Illegal Activity’ by Chinese, Canadian Firms at Monywa: Amnesty
By Sean Gleeson
10 February 2015
RANGOON — Amnesty International has called for an investigation into two international firms over their conduct in three adjoining copper mine projects, including the controversial Letpadaung mine, the site of repeated clashes between villagers and police forces in recent months.
A new report from Amnesty has documented forcible evictions, health impacts and the excessive use of police force in quelling protests. The report also suggested that Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines deliberately circumvented economic sanctions in divesting its stake in the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mines, while accusing Chinese company Wanbao, a subsidiary of China’s state-owned defense manufacturer Norinco, of directly engaging in evictions and crop destruction in collusion with authorities.
“Since its inception and throughout its various changes in ownership the Monywa project has been characterised by serious human rights abuses and a lack of transparency,” said the report, released on Tuesday. “Thousands of people have been forcibly evicted by the government with the knowledge, and in some cases the participation of foreign companies.”
Ivanhoe Mines, currently known as Turquoise Hill Resources, acquired a stake in the Monywa mines in 1996 and announced its decision to divest from the project a decade later through an independent trust. United States diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks revealed that Ivanhoe was an active participant in discussions around the sale of its Monywa assets after the trust was established, with Tay Za, a tycoon with close connections to the former Burmese military junta, enlisted to help broker a deal on the sale between Ivanhoe, Wanbao and the military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL).
An investigation of the circumstances surrounding Ivanhoe’s divestment from Monywa has led Amnesty to conclude the trust was registered in the British Virgin Islands, potentially implicating Ivanhoe in a breach of economic sanctions leveled against UMEHL.
The Letpadaung mine, a joint venture between UMEHL and Wanbao, has been an ongoing source of conflict between local farmers, authorities and project workers for more than two years.
White phosphorous incendiary rounds were used against protesting villagers in Nov. 2012, resulting in severe burns and lifelong injuries to more than 100 people. A group of villagers and activists demanding a halt to the mines briefly abducted three Wanbao contractors in May 2014 before releasing them unharmed 24 hours later. A series of protests in December last year over Letpadaung workers fencing farmland led to the shooting death of Khin Win , a 56-year-old villager, during a police confrontation.
“The Letpadaung mine is increasingly being perceived as a test case of the government’s commitment to its own reform process,” said Meghna Abraham, Amnesty’s deputy director of global thematic issues, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “Despite considerable national and international criticism of the brutal attack on monks and protesters in November 2012, the government has not taken the crucial steps that are necessary to correct past abuses linked to Letpadaung and prevent further abuses.”
Amnesty has called for an investigation by the Chinese and Canadian governments into the conduct of Ivanhoe Mines and Wanbao in Burma, an investigation of whether Ivanhoe breached economic sanctions in Canada and the UK, and an immediate halt to the construction of the Letpadaung mine until human rights concerns are addressed.
Additional reporting by Saw Yan Naing in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
UK, Canada consider action over mine sale
By Fiona MacGregor
19 February 2015
The British government is examining allegations by Amnesty International that the British Virgin Islands was used to skirt international sanctions on the sale of a controversial copper mining project at Monywa.
Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines, which sold its stake in the mine in 2011, has denied knowledge of any wrongdoing.
Amnesty also accused Ivanhoe and the current Chinese operator of having “profited from, and in some cases colluded with the Myanmar authorities in serious human rights abuses and illegal activity around the Monywa copper mine complex”.
While Canadian authorities have not issued any formal response, Amnesty says it is in talks with both the government and parliamentarians on how to proceed with an investigation.
The Monywa project is now run by the Chinese firm Wanbao – a subsidiary of arms manufacturer Norinco – with profits shared between the state, Wanbao and army-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited. A planned US$1 billion expansion has brought Wanbao into renewed conflict with local residents, who have refused to accept compensation for their land.
The Amnesty publication – Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine – details large-scale forced evictions, environmental pollution and the use of “excessive force” by police against protestors. The mining project, which includes the Letpadaung mine and two sites developed in the 1990s, has been the subject of ongoing demonstrations, including one in December 2014, in which a 56-year-old woman was shot dead by police.
The report called on Canadian and British authorities to investigate whether Ivanhoe Mines, which has since rebranded as Turqoise Hill, and any linked legal entities breached Canadian and British economic sanctions in relation to operations at Monywa.
Canada had the strictest sanctions in the world at the time of the sale, with a total ban on investment in or trade with Myanmar.
The United Kingdom has been drawn into the controversy over details in the report that say Ivanhoe set up a trust in the British Virgin Islands to divest its Myanmar assets in order to take advantage of contentious legal secrecy provisions there that have allowed details of the transfer to remain hidden from scrutiny.
Ivanhoe announced in 2007 it had placed its stake in the Monywa mine in an “independent third-party trust”, pending the sale of the asset. Ivanhoe received US$103 million for its stake in August 2011 following the completion of the sale.
The divesture of the Monywa mine was demanded by Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto as part of a deal between the two companies to jointly develop a giant copper mine project in Mongolia, Oyu Tolgoi. Rio Tinto is now a major stakeholder in Turquoise Hill.
The British Virgin Islands, an offshore tax-haven, provides an opportunity for companies to operate without the disclosure requirements of most other jurisdictions. Campaigners for responsible business in Myanmar have pointed out that much of what appears as official figures for investment by British companies in Myanmar in fact comes from offshore traders based in the British Virgin Islands.
A spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office said it had “seen Amnesty International’s report and are examining the findings in detail”.
She said she was unable to provide further information about who would be following up on the report or when an announcement might be made on what, if any, action would be taken by British authorities.
The Canadian government did not respond to questions from The Myanmar Times on whether it would undertake an investigation or what form an investigation could take.
But an Amnesty spokesperson said last week that the watchdog had met a range of Canadian government officials and parliamentarians, and had begun discussions about options for how to move forward with an investigation in Canada. “While there have not yet been any commitments, there is willingness to examine the information we have presented, consider the various possibilities, and ensure that the right government departments and law enforcement agencies are apprised,” the spokesperson said.
Amnesty International’s corporate crimes researcher Meghna Abraham said it was important that the British government “stopped allowing its overseas territory to be used as a haven for secrecy”.
“The evidence we have uncovered shows how companies can shelter behind British Virgin Islands’ secrecy even for transactions which may breach the territory’s criminal law. This demands a full investigation by the UK government,” she said.
A spokesperson for Turquoise Hill did not respond to the allegations in detail but said the company’s management was “not aware of any facts or circumstances” that suggested a breach of sanctions or any other law at the time of the “apparent” sale of the Monywa assets.
“It remains our understanding that the measures proposed by Rio Tinto and put in place by Ivanhoe Mines on the disposal of the Myanmar asset were fully compliant with all applicable laws giving effect to sanctions,” he said.
An Amnesty International Myanmar spokesperson responded that Turquoise Hills’ statement “does not address the evidence that Amnesty International has uncovered about its so-called independent third party trust and possible breaches of economic sanctions. It needs to disclose information publicly and to the United Kingdom and Canadian authorities.”
Current mine operator Wanbao issued a statement following the release of the publication describing it as “groundless”.
“We strongly refute its wild allegations and unsubstantiated claims. This report is not acceptable as it relies on hearsay and conjecture rather than on hard facts,” the company stated, adding that it “vehemently den[ies] collusion with authorities to use force against protestors and villagers”.
The Wanbao statement also asserted that the Amnesty report was based on what the mine company says was an outdated Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA).
“The ESIA was carried out by the internationally renowned and respected Australian consultancy, Knight Piesold. The ESIA has taken over two years to prepare and review, and it was based on community consultations and followed an exhaustive process.
“During the consultation process a number of environmental and technical issues were raised and these issues were able to be addressed and resolved,” it said.
It also said Amnesty had not properly consulted with the company prior to the release of the report.
However, an Amnesty spokesperson stood by the report.
“Wanbao keeps repeating the numbers of people who support the project without providing any proof to substantiate these claims,” he said. “Amnesty International shared a draft of the report with the company, analysed all its public documents, gave it an opportunity to meet and to respond, and has included the company’s full response in our report.”
Canadian Mining Firm May Have Breached Sanctions, Rights Group Says
By Seamus Martov
20 February 2015
For many years, Canada’s since-rebranded Ivanhoe Mines was one of the very few Western mining companies involved in Burma through its stake in one of the country’s largest mines, located near Monywa. Recently disclosed documents reveal that during the period between April 2003 and January 2004, Ivanhoe’s local Burmese joint venture may have violated a number of Western sanctions by selling copper to internationally blacklisted military-affiliated entities.
An exhaustive report by Amnesty International titled, “Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine,” released in early February, details recorded sales between the firm’s local Burmese joint venture, Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Company Ltd (MICCL) and several military connected entities, despite Ivanhoe’s stated claim that copper mined and processed on site was exclusively sold to Japan’s Marubeni.
Based on internal documents obtained by Amnesty, the report said that MICCL’s list of buyers “reads like a who’s who of the Myanmar [Burma] security forces and its establishments.” The internationally renowned rights group said the fact that copper was sold to blacklisted entities “raises issues around breaches of sanctions” at the time the sales took place.
Ivanhoe, which is now known as Turquoise Hill Resources, entered into a joint venture with Burma’s state-owned Mining Enterprise No. 1 in April 1996, taking a 50 percent stake in MICCL. When mining at Monywa began, access to the site and surrounding areas was severely restricted by the then-ruling military regime. The project has long been associated with land disputes, and in 2012 made international headlines after a violent crackdown on protesters at the now-notorious Letpadaung deposit, which was undeveloped at the time of Ivanhoe’s involvement.
Documents cited by Amnesty offer several revelations about Ivanhoe’s mysterious years in Burma. A collection of US Embassy cables indicate that the firm continued to be involved in the Monywa mine for several years after February 2007 when its 50 percent stake in MICCL was transferred into what the company said was an “independent third party trust”. The cables also indicate that a notorious blacklisted crony was involved in the eventual sale of Ivanhoe’s Burmese assets. Amnesty further claimed that internal sales documents, never before disclosed, show that Ivanhoe lied publicly about who was buying MICCL’s copper.
Amnesty’s dossier—comprising leaked cables and internal sales records—collectively raises questions about whether MICCL’s copper sales and the subsequent transfer of Ivanhoe’s stake in MICCL potentially ran afoul of three sanctions regimes: Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. The report called for investigations in all relevant jurisdictions.
According to the documents, during a 10-month period up to and including January 2004, MICCL sold 100 tonnes of copper to an entity known as the Office of Defense Service Industry, which the group said “seems to refer to the Directorate or a unit of the Directorate of Defense Industries [DDI],” known in Burmese as Ka Pa Sa, the arms and munitions manufacturing division of the Ministry of Defense.
The documents also show that 3 tonnes of copper were sold to No. 11, Light Infantry Division, a unit later identified by Human Rights Watch as being involved in the brutal suppression of monk-led protests that took place in Rangoon in September 2007. They further reveal that MICCL sold copper to an entity listed as No. 1, Defense Service Intelligence. Amnesty said this appeared to be a reference to a unit that at the time of the sales was under direction of the Directorate of Defense Service Intelligence (DDSI), which was headed at the time by the powerful Military Intelligence Chief Khin Nyunt.
Large amounts of copper also appear to have been sold to an entity listed as Special Branch, another section of Burma’s security apparatus, and more still to the Thaton branch of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a regime-backed organization linked to numerous violent acts carried out against opponents of the regime. The group was largely believed to have been behind the 2003 Depayin massacre, involving an attack on Aung San Suu Kyi’s convoy which killed dozens of her fellow National League for Democracy (NLD) members.
According to the documents, 50 tons of copper were also sold to an entity listed as the Shan State National Army (SSNA), formed in 1995 by a group of disgruntled members of opium warlord Khun Sa’s Shan Mon Tai Army.
Amnesty said that the sale of the copper to army-controlled entities contradicted statements from Ivanhoe Mines indicating that copper produced by MICCL was only being sold to the Japanese firm Marubeni for export. The report cites numerous Ivanhoe company filings made between 2000 and 2004 stating that “[t]hroughout the term of the copper sales agreement, Marubeni has the exclusive right to market copper produced from the Monywa Copper Project throughout the world.”
According to Amnesty, the sales documents prove that “Ivanhoe Mines lied publicly about the copper sales in its filings with the US and Canadian regulatory authorities.”
In addition to being inconsistent with claims made by Ivanhoe over the years, the copper sales may also have violated sanctions placed on Burma, Amnesty said. Ivanhoe’s stake in MICCL was—at the time the sales took place—held by a British Virgin Islands-based subsidiary. As an overseas possession, the British Virgin Islands were subject to certain EU and British restrictions barring dealings with Burma’s military and therefore, according to Amnesty, “may have committed an offence under UK law” depending on whether the copper ended up being used for military purposes such as the manufacturing of weapons or vehicles. Amnesty urged all relevant authorities to fully investigate the sales and the use of the product to determine whether sanctions had been breached.
Ivanhoe’s 2007 Divestment from Monywa Called into Question
In February 2007, Ivanhoe Mines placed the 50 percent stake it owned in MICCL into what it described as an “independent third party trust” in accordance with what it claimed was its divestment from the country. The trust was—according to Ivanhoe—tasked with selling its 50 percent stake in the mine, something that Ivanhoe did not report taking place until 2011.
Prior to Ivanhoe’s announcement that its stake had been sold, the company claimed that it had nothing to do with day-to-day operations of the mine after its 50 percent stake in MICCL was transferred to the trust. US diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks in September 2011, however, suggest that claim wasn’t true.
A US cable dated January 2009 suggested that MICCL’s acting General Manager Glenn Ford was still acting under the orders of Ivanhoe’s head office in Vancouver, which contradicted Ivanhoe’s claim that it had no role in MICCL after its stake was transferred to the trust.
“According to Ford, Ivanhoe Headquarters instructed him to produce a small amount of copper every six months,” the cable read. The document shows that the order was meant to prevent a contract clause from kicking in that would give the state-owned entity that jointly held the mine, Mining Enterprise No 1, the right to completely take over the mine should it remain inactive for a year.
Another US cable dated September 2008 portrays Ford telling US Embassy officials that Burmese billionaire Tay Za facilitated negotiations between Ivanhoe and several Chinese companies, which could be a violation of both US and Canadian sanctions. Although headquartered in Vancouver, Ivanhoe was listed on both the Toronto Stock Exchange and New York-based Nasdaq, which meant that the firm was subject to American rules as well those north of the border.
“For the past year, Ivanhoe has been negotiating through regime crony Tay Za with a consortium of three Chinese companies—WanBo [sic] Copper, Norinco Copper, and Aluminum Corporation of China (Chalco)—that want to purchase its contract… He [Ford] opined that the consortium’s connections to Tay Za play a pivotal role in the negotiations with the GOB,” the cable read. A later cable said that the Chinese buyers paid Tay Za $50 million for his assistance.
Both Wanbao Copper and its Burmese subsidiary Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. are owned by China North Industries Corp., also known as NORINCO, a weapons firm. Wanbao is now heading the development of the lucrative Letpadaung deposit, which was part of the Monywa mining project but had not yet been developed during the time Ivanhoe was involved.
In a letter to Amnesty, a former Ivanhoe employee in Burma, Oxford-trained geologist Dr. Andrew Mitchell, who served on the board of MICCL from 2007 to 2011, indicated that what had been Ivanhoe’s stake in the mine—which was later divested into an overseas trust—did end up being sold to Chinese firms.
Mitchell argued, however, that Amnesty’s conclusion that Ivanhoe remained involved after divesting was erroneous, claiming Ford was referring to the trust when speaking to embassy officials about Ivanhoe.
“It was customary in the early days of the Trust to refer to the Trust as Ivanhoe in private conversations,” he wrote, because the government and former partners still used the old name. Amnesty countered that it was “difficult to reconcile” Mitchell’s explanation with Ford’s specific reference to “Ivanhoe Headquarters” telling him to do something.
After extensive searches in corporate registries in numerous offshore tax havens where various trust related entities were based, Amnesty was able to conclude that the trust “was not an independent entity, and that Ivanhoe Mines had set up a protector company in Barbados that had oversight of the Trust.”
Amnesty’s report flagged as problematic the opaque manner in which Ivanhoe transferred its stake in MICCL to the trust, which was overseen by a protector company, Sentinel Holding Company. While the cables suggest that Tay Za could have facilitated the eventual sale to Chinese firms, Ivanhoe never publicly disclosed who bought its stake.
Ivanhoe did announce in August 2011 that the trust had sold its 50 percent stake in MICCL for $103 million. In June 2010—more than a year before Ivanhoe announced that the sale had been made—NORINCO signed a production sharing contract with the military-controlled Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. for the Monywa copper mining project, which, according to Amnesty, “raises serious questions about how NORINCO and UMEHL were able to enter into an agreement for the Monywa project when MICCL still held these rights.”
Amnesty ultimately recommended that Canadian authorities investigate the sale of Ivanhoe’s Burmese assets and the operation of the trust to determine whether sanctions had been violated. The current government in Ottawa—which last year hosted a high level trade delegation from Burma that included the controversial Burmese billionaire Stephen Law (also known as Tun Myint Naing or Lo Ping Zhong), son of the late drug lord Lo Hsing Han—has as yet given no indication that such an investigation is imminent.
Ivanhoe Chairman Unhappy with Amnesty
Prior to the report’s publication, Amnesty wrote to the man who headed Ivanhoe Mines throughout its entire stint in Burma, Robert Freidland. The billionaire mining mogul was asked about the Monywa mine project with regard to the London-based organization’s stated human rights concerns. His response was printed in full at the end of the report.
“It is far from clear to me how this narrative and the questions presented in your letter have any relevance to such an investigation. I perceive a fishing expedition, the purpose of which, at least as it relates to me, would appear to involve adding two parts innuendo to two parts insinuation and suggesting that the answer is five,” said Friedland in his letter.
Friedland was particularly irked by Amnesty’s questioning of the Monywa Trust’s structure. “I also take issue with Amnesty’s characterization of the Monywa Trust structure, which implies that it was devised solely as a means to obfuscate the ownership of the Myanmar Assets and create the false impression that the Company had divested itself of the Myanmar Assets while nonetheless secretly maintaining control. If this is your theory, then it is simply wrong,” Friedland’s letter to Amnesty states.
This is not the only mine-related controversy Friedland has been involved in. Following a lengthy court battle Friedland paid US $20 million to US authorities after a mine operated by the subsidiary of a previous company he headed—Galactic Resources—spilled thousands of liters of toxic mining waste water from the Summitville gold mine into Colorado’s Alamosa River in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Summitville mine fiasco is considered by many to be one of the biggest environmental disasters in the history of the United States, earning Friedland the nickname “Toxic Bob”. Since taking over the Summitville site from the bankrupt Galactic in 1992, the US Environmental Protection Agency has spent more than $200 million on clean-up efforts at the mine site and its vicinity.
Confusingly, Friedland is once again heading a mining firm known as Ivanhoe Mines, an entity wholly distinct from the Ivanhoe Mines examined by Amnesty. In 2013, shortly after his departure from the firm previously known as Ivanhoe Mines, another firm Friedland headed—Ivanplats Limited—was renamed Ivanhoe Mines.
The new Ivanhoe Mines has recently come under criticism in South Africa for allegedly aggressive tactics used to secure mining rights from small scale landholders. As Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper reported in January, company staff allegedly threatened an 82-year-old illiterate villager with the loss of her meager pension unless she agreed to allow drilling in her corn field. In April 2006, Friedland was burned in effigy by Mongolian protesters in the landlocked country’s capital who were opposed to an Ivanhoe-backed megaproject.
A Familiar Tone
Friedland’s troubles in other parts of the globe sound a familiar tone given his company’s history in Burma. The Monywa mining project has long been plagued by land rights disputes and other community grievances. Amnesty’s report further implicates Ivanhoe in a series of land confiscations that took place in around the Monywa mine site during the 1990′s. In May of 1996 shortly after Ivanhoe entered into the joint venture with state owned ME1 and then again in November 1997, government authorities, according to Amnesty’s research, confiscated 5,411 acres of land from local farmers without compensation.
Dozens of families were evicted from their land to make way for the development of the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung deposits. According to Amnesty, Ivanhoe “benefitted from the forced evictions as they were carried out for its joint venture with ME1.” After conducting extensive interviews with local farmers Amnesty concluded that Ivanhoe “did not take any corrective measures once the forced evictions were carried out by the government although the company could not have been unaware of the impact on affected people.”
The reported land grabs that took place in the 1990′s mirror the ongoing dispute between local farmers and the mines new Chinese operators and their Burmese partners that has been ongoing at the mine since 2012. Much of the controversy involves land grabbing in around the Letpadaung deposit which remained undeveloped at the time of Ivanhoe’s involvement in the project. A November 2012 incident that took place near the mine site during which police fired white phosphorus munitions directly at a group of unarmed protesting farmers and monks made headlines around the world.