A high profile Perth businessman who has investment links to a company owned by Burma’s military regime is facing calls to withdraw his company from the troubled nation.
William (Bill) Clough’s oil and gas exploration company Twinza Oil is thought to have invested up to $40 million in its Burmese operations, the largest single investment from an Australian company, according to academics.
Advocacy group Burma Campaign Australia and Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam have called for Twinza Oil to liquidate its assets and withdraw from Burma immediately amid fresh reports of ethnic border killings instigated by the Burmese military regime.
“Australian companies must abandon trade deals with Burma’s military,” Senator Ludlam said.
The senator said hefty oil and gas revenues from companies such as Twinza helped fund the Burmese military regime.
“The Burmese government are keeping those troops equipped, fed and in the field with oil and gas revenues,” he said.
“It’s got to stop.”
Burma Campaign Australia and Senator Ludlam have appealed to Mr Clough, who is also a director and shareholder of publicly-listed company Mirabela Nickel, to cease the Burma operations.
Twinza had been operating in Burma since November 2006, when it signed a joint venture contract with state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise to explore for oil and gas, according to articles in Burmese publication the Myanmar Times and Australian Embassy cables revealed by Wikileaks.
That meant it was working with the state-owned company during the Saffron Uprising, an anti-government protest led by Burmese monks in 2007, which was crushed by the government.
Wikileaks cables show Twinza’s Burmese subsidiary, Danford Equities Corporation, has invested heavily in the Burmese oil and gas sector.
According to documents sent from Australia’s Embassy in Burma’s capital Rangoon, and revealed by Wikileaks, Danford Equities expects to spend up to $40 million during exploration, which started in 2008.
Burma Campaign Australia has called on the Australian government to add the regime-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise to its list of targeted trade and investment sanctions.
Campaign co-ordinator Zetty Brake said including the state-owned energy company on the financial sanctions list would stop funds from Australian companies being used by Burma’s brutal military dictatorship.
Senator Ludlam said the Australian government needed to act now to prevent more bloodshed in Burma.
A recent report by Thailand-based non-government organisation Kachin Women’s Association, said documents provided evidence of human rights violations, including the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war against women and girls as young as nine were carried out in northern Burma between June and September this year.
Fifteen of those victims were killed, according to the report.
Australia currently has three categories of sanctions in relation to Burma: an arms embargo, targeted financial sanctions and travel bans forbidding named individuals connected with the Burmese regime from having financial dealings with, or travel, to Australia.
However, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has no restrictions on private trade or investment with Burma.
Macquarie University academic Sean Turnell, who co-edits Burma Economic Watch, said significant loopholes existed under the current sanctions strategy.
“Substantial loopholes do exist for financial sanctions in that people can do business with Australian companies and those companies can do business with Burmese people not on the sanctions list,” the former Reserve Bank economist said.
Senator Ludlam wants the Australian government to impose strict trade sanctions to halt two-way trade with Burma.
However, he said, Australian companies also needed to be ethically responsible when dealing with the troubled nation.
“In the absence of our government bringing in some new regime which suspends trade for the time being, companies should withdraw immediately,” Senator Ludlam said.
“They don’t need to wait for the government to act. They should get out of the country.”
An Australian company that has cut ties with the repressive Burmese military regime is listed engineering company Downer EDI.
“Downer made the decision in 2009 that it was not appropriate to work for the Burmese government and we still believe that was the right decision for the company to make,” Downer corporate relations manager Michael Sharp said.
McRae Investments, an investment company owned by the Clough family, and Bill Clough’s private company WM Clough together put up almost $12 million for Twinza’s venture, according to documents submitted to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in 2010.
Harold Clough, Bill Clough’s father and director of McRae Investments, said in an interview with Fairfax Media in 2007 that he believed sanctions were counterproductive.
He also said in the interview that the killing of demonstrators in Burma was abominable, but there was a question as to how you fixed the situation.
Harold Clough retired from an Australian government international advisory board role in 2008. His career has spanned various engineering, mining and media roles.
Son Bill, who founded Twinza Oil, is a former director of Clough Ltd, a publicly-listed mining firm, and a current director of Mirabela Nickel and WM Clough.
Neither Harold or Bill Clough responded to repeated requests for comment or information from AAP.