MAC: Mines and Communities

Ivanhoe's jailed Burmese driver feared dead, Ombusdman investigation doubtful

Published by MAC on 2009-04-14
Source: Canadian Friends of Burma (2009-04-08)
Ivanhoe's jailed Burmese driver feared dead, Ombusdman investigation doubtful

Canadian Friends of Burma

8 April 2008

Ottawa- Ko Thet Lwin worked as a driver for Dr. Andrew Mitchell a British geologist employed by Ivanhoe Mines of Vancouver to oversee the firm's exploration work at Modi Taung in upper Burma. According to Ko Thet Lwin's family one very unfortunate day in Rangoon in December 2003 Mitchell ordered Ko Thet Lwin to take him to Burmese opposition leader Aung San Su Kyi's Rangoon home where she lives under house arrest. Reluctantly Ko Thet Lwin obeyed Mitchell's command. In front of Suu Kyi's residence both men were detained by soldiers who serve as Suu Kyi's jailers. Apparently Mitchell wanted to see Suu Kyi and he believed that his position with a foreign firm engaged in a joint venture with Burma's generals would enable him to get past her jailers.

Shortly after the arrest Mitchell was released, his driver wasn't so lucky. The Burmese military continued Ko Thet Lwin's detention and in February 2004 a kangaroo court sentenced Ko Thet Lwin to seven years in prison. When reached for comment Ivanhoe Mines claimed simply that no person named Ko Thet Lwin was ever an employee of the firm.

Burmese Junta's own newspaper contradicts Ivanhoe's denial

On July 28 2004 the Burmese junta's official English language newspaper the New Light of Myanmar confirmed Ko Thet Lwin family's contention that he was employed as a driver for Ivanhoe Mines. The New Light of Myanmar article written by Pauk Sa was number #55 in a series dedicated to uncovering the “enemies” of Burma called "Those Who Daren't Show Their Face". In the junta's typical Orwellian tone the article claimed that Ko Thet Lwin was high on drugs and had forced Mitchell against his will to go to Suu Kyi's house. According to the article Mitchell was rescued from Ko Thet Lwin who when questioned was “incoherently shouting like an insane person”.

Last known location notorious Insein Prison

In July 2004 Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPP Burma) an internationally acclaimed advocacy group based in Chiang Mai, Thailand reported that Ko Thet Lwin was sent to the Taungzun Labor Camp in Mon state and that his family had contacted the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to verify his well being. CFOB later learned that Ko Thet Lwin had been transferred to Burma's infamous Insein prison located just outside of Rangoon.

A report issued by AAPP Burma last year and independently confirmed by CFOB stated that the night cyclone Nargis hit Burma in May 2008, the roof blew off Insein prison and overwhelmed authorities herded more than 1500 prisoners into an extremely crowded hall. The damp prisoners were denied food or water and forced to stand for hours on end. When a small fire broke out in the the hall guards responded by shooting into the crowd killing 36 inmates and injuring more than 70. Some of the injured subsequently died as result of their wounds.

Since the cyclone hit Burma's Irrawaddy Delta in May 2008 CFOB has not been able to verify Ko Thet Lwin's location, legal status or the well being of his family. Nearly a year after the cyclone many Burmese living outside the dictatorship still have not been unable to contact their loved ones who resided in areas effected by the cyclone.

CFOB does not know if Ko Thet Lwin survived the Insein prison massacre of May 2008. Even without a cataclysmic event like a cyclone and subsequent mass killing life expectancy in Burma's prisons is very short. Burma's prisoners are routinely subjected to torture and abuse. Many prisoners are used as forced labour by the military and worked as porters in incredibly tough conditions till they die. The International Committee for the Red Cross has not been allowed into any of Burma's prisons since December 2005.

Mitchell still Ivanhoe Myanmar employee as of fall 2008

A paper which listed Mitchell as an employee of Ivanhoe Myanmar Holdings of Rangoon was presented at a conference held in Bangkok in November 2008 called the International Symposia on Geoscience Resources and Environments of Asian Terranes (GREAT), 4th IGCP 516,and 5th APSEG. Mitchell was listed as the corresponding author of the paper entitled “The Monywa Copper Deposits, Myanmar”, his four co-authors were Burmese employees of Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Company Limited (MICCL) the joint venture between a Burmese state owned enterprise and Ivanhoe Mines that ran Burma's largest mine in Monywa. At present it is unclear if Ivanhoe still owns a 50% stake in MICCL or if it has been sold to a Chinese firm however as of January 2009 MICCL is now listed on the American government's Burma sanctions list

According to the website of the National Taiwan University's Department of Geosciences in October 2008 Mitchell, listed as an “Ivanhoe Myanmar” employee gave a presentation at the university on the “Possible Mesozoic suture within the Shan-Thai block in western Myanmar and continuation into Tibet.”

Ivanhoe's mystery offshore Burmese holdings

Previously Ivanhoe Mines listed two Ivanhoe subsidiaries named Ivanhoe Myanmar Holdings Ltd. as being 100% owned by Ivanhoe Mines, one based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the other based in Burma. Also listed was another Burma related holding called Bagan Holdings Ltd again based in the island tax haven. Ivanhoe Mines reports listed BVI based Bagan Holdings Ltd as owning the BVI based Ivanhoe Myanmar Holdings Ltd which in turn held Ivanhoe's 50% stake in MICCL. Ivanhoe Mines reports also listed the separate entity Burma based Ivanhoe Myanmar Holdings Ltd. as owning the rights to the Modi Taung exploration block, it is unclear if these rights expired or were renewed.

In February 2007 Ivanhoe Mines announced that its had placed its Burmese holdings into a “blind trust” in preparation for a sale, it is unclear if this meant just its 50% stake in MICCL or the Burma based Ivanhoe Myanmar Holdings Ltd. In December 2007 Ivanhoe Mines claimed “prudent to record a $134.3 million write-down” in the value of their 50% holding in the Burmese joint venture thus reducing its value to zero. Ivanhoe Mines has since refused to provide any more details about the “blind trust”.

SEC filings from 2007 and 2008 made by Chinese firm China Resources LTD claimed that MICCL was valued at $400 million and that China Resources CFO Gerald Nugawela brokered a sale of MICCL to the “Chinese Aluminum Company” (its unclear if this is massive state owned CHINALCO).

Ivanhoe's lack of transparency is a deep concern for CFOB says board member Kevin McLeod “at this point we really don't know what is going with Ivanhoe's Burma operations, were they sold to the Chinese as half a dozen SEC filings by an obscure Chinese firm claim? or are they still being overseen by the unidentified blind trust? Meanwhile Andrew Mitchell is still running around representing Ivanhoe Myanmar at conferences?.”

Newly Created Extratives Ombudsman toothless

CFOB had been hoping to bring up Ko Thet Lwin's case with the long expected Canadian international extractives ombudsman. The ombudsman position was created as a product of the Corporate Social Responsibility framework drafted as a result of the round tables on Natural Resource Extraction between Canadian civil society and Canada's mining industry. The proposed framework included an explicit government policy that all Canadian companies operating overseas should adhere to a standard set of guidelines that include core human rights treaties; the Framework included the creation of an independent extractives ombudsman, which would provide non-nationals with the opportunity to lodge complaints about Canadian companies, and whose office would undertake independent fact-finding about such complaints.

In late March 2009 after an extremely lengthy delay, the Harper government finally created an extractives ombudsman however the newly created position does not have the power to investigate a firm's overseas activities unless the mining firm agrees to such an investigation, thus rendering the office weak and ineffective. Ivanhoe refuses so far to even comment on the present status of its Burma operations which ostensibly have been for sale for two years and may or may not have been sold already. Since it first arrived in Burma in the early 1990's Ivanhoe has been far from transparent about its operations in the country and its joint venture with a violent military dictatorship. It is extremely unlikely the firm would ever voluntarily agree to be seriously investigated.

Prior to launching his partnership with Burma's killer generals Ivanhoe Chairman Robert Friedland was CEO of another Vancouver based mining firm Galactic Resources. Galactic ran a disastrous gold mine in the San Juan mountains of Colorado called Summitville. Thousands of liters of toxic mining waste leaked from the mine into a nearby river killing all aquatic life downstream for at least 17 miles. In December 2000 after nearly a decade long legal fight with US government authorities, Friedland agreed to personally pay US $27.5 million towards the clean up of the mine, the largest such fine in US history. To date US taxpayers have spent more than $200 million to clean up Summitville, called by many the costliest environmental mining disaster in US history.

Kevin McLeod CFOB board member comments “if the US government had only required Friedland and Galactic Resources to voluntarily participate in an investigation into the Summitville disaster, Friedland would have never paid a $27 million dollar fine, so why should we expect Ivanhoe and its Chairman Friedland to voluntarily cooperate with the extractives ombudsman. We will only get to the bottom of Friedland's Burmese fiasco if the government of Canada forces Ivanhoe to cooperate.”

CFOB calls on MPs to subpoena Friedland to testify before Parliament

The Canadian Friends of Burma urges MPs to force Mr. Friedland, a Canadian Citizen to testify before Parliament regarding the current status of Ivanhoe's Burmese operations. Precedent was set when Clifford James of TVI Pacific testified before a parliamentary sub committee regarding his firms activities in Mindanao a war torn region of the Philippines. Canadian Friends of Burma coordinator Tin Maung Htoo says “we consider the life of Ivanhoe Driver Ko Thet Lwin and every other citizen of Burma to be just as important as that of our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, evidently Robert Friedland and his friends don't share this view. We must force Ivanhoe to come clean about what happened to their mine and what happened to their driver, this fiasco has gone on for far too long.”

Media contact: Kevin McLeod at 613-746-4963, or Tin Maung Htoo at 613-297-6835

The Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB) is federally incorporated, national non-governmental organization working for democracy and human rights in Burma since 1991. Contact: Suite 206, 145 Spruce St., Ottawa, K1R 6P1; Tel: 613.237.8056; Email: cfob@cfob.org; Web: www.cfob.org

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