Wikileaks Cables Spotlight US Surveillance of Burmese Junta Skip to main content

Wikileaks Cables Spotlight US Surveillance of Burmese Junta

Burmese dictator Snr-Gen Than Shwe pondered buying Manchester United football team for US $1 billion at the urge of his favorite grandson in January last year, according to the latest US diplomatic cables revealed by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks.

The proposed move reportedly did not come about because the junta chief thought  “that sort of expenditure could look bad” in the aftermath of the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in which more than 130,000 people died.

According to the cables, Than Shwe finally opted to create for his grandson the Myanmar National League (MNL), the very first multi-million-dollar soccer league in the country, financed by his cronies who would in turn receive government incentives as“construction contracts, new gem and jade mines, and import permits.”

The leaked information might be of little political significance, but the two diplomatic cables— details of which have been published on the website of British daily newspaper The Guardian—do reveal that US officials in Rangoon are watching closely all the twists and turns of the the Burmese regime, and that the generals' antics contribute to US policy decision-making.

According to one classified cable in June 2009, US officials in Burma recommended the US government's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)  add additional companies and key management personnel of one of the regime's cronies, Zaw Zaw, to the targeted sanctions list.

“Zaw Zaw operates the Lone Khin jade mine in conjunction with the Ministry of Mines and recently received an additional 50 acres of land in Phankhat for jade mine development. Zaw Zaw allegedly sold several lots of jade at the March 2009 government jade and gem auction,” the cable said.

The Max Myanmar Group of companies owned by Zaw Zaw, who the dispatch described as one of Burma's “up and coming cronies,” was already listed with US financial sanctions.

The cable further detailed out Zaw Zaw's additional five business entities and a football club where Than Shwe's grandson was “hired to play”—all of which were recommended for sanctions. 

In exchange for business incentives, Zaw Zaw and seven other cronies of the regime, including the closest and most most powerful investor, Tay Za, were all asked to build new football stadia in respective regions by 2011, each of which will cost an estimated $1 million.

US officials also reported to Washington the Burmese regime's chaotic budget management and its degree of corruption at all levels, particularly singling out corruption in such government agencies as “Internal Revenue Department, Immigration, and Yangon (Rangoon) Central Development Committee.”

Of 1,864 diplomatic cables which Wikileaks obtained from the US embassy in Rangoon, only these two cables have been released; however, more are expected to be revealed in the coming days and weeks.

To date, several of the leaked US diplomatic cables have caused much embarrassment to US officials in foreign posts around the world.

One such instance involves US Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens who wrote from Seoul that a new, younger generation of Chinese leaders “would be comfortable with a reunited Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a benign alliance.”

By way of contrast, however, the cables from Rangoon showed a correct assessment of the situation on the ground in Burma.

Several Burma observers have said they are keen to know more about the candid internal assessments of US officials on the beleaguered opposition groups in Burma, including the role of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

They say they are also anxiously waiting to hear what the leaked cables say about Burma's alleged nuclear plans and China's influence in the country.


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