Australia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, has invested in a Chinese state-controlled arms maker that sold fighter jets to the Burmese military, accused of crimes against humanity.
An Indian-controlled arms company is also among the companies the fund has invested in that are linked to the Burmese military, according to documents released under freedom of information laws.
The Burmese military took control of the country in a coup in February and has since killed more than 1,200 civilians in a crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
In total, Australia’s Future Fund has invested $ 157 million in 14 publicly traded companies that have done business with the Burmese military.
The fund’s holdings include $ 4.9 million invested in five subsidiaries of the Chinese arms conglomerate Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).
He also invested $ 17.8 million in Bharat Electronics, an Indian government-controlled company that supplied equipment to the Burmese military and was sanctioned between 1998 and 2001 by the United States for allegations that it would have been involved in the development of nuclear weapons. Sanctions were lifted in 2001 due to India’s cooperation with the United States in a campaign against terrorism.
The Future Fund holds around $ 200 billion in investments made on behalf of the Australian government. It is overseen by a board of directors chaired by Peter Costello, who was treasurer of the Howard government.
The Burmese army, known as Tatmadaw, has been condemned by the international community for its “demining operations” of 2017 – carried out with “genocidal intent”, according to UN investigators – against the Rohingya ethnic minority in Rakhine State, which included massacres, especially of children, as well as gang rapes, arson and torture. More than 25,000 Rohingya were killed and 700,000 were driven to Bangladesh across the Burmese border.
In 2019, a UN fact-finding mission said China was violating international humanitarian law over the transfer of military supplies from AVIC to the Tatmadaw.
The bulk of Australia’s investment in AVIC is through subsidiary AviChina, in which it has invested $ 3.2 million. AviChina manufactures the K-8 light fighter, which has been used in military operations in Kachin State in Myanmar.
In 2015, the Burmese military ordered 16 JF-17M fighter jets from AVIC under a US $ 560 million contract. The first four planes entered service in 2018, a year after the Burmese army’s genocidal campaign against the Rohingyas.
AVIC also delivered 40 short-range PL-5E missiles and 24 longer-range PL-12 missiles, both of which can be mounted on the JF-17M aircraft, to the Burmese military in 2018-19, according to Stockholm International. Peace Research. Database on the Institute’s arms transfers.
Bharat Electronics has continued to sell military supplies to the Tatmadaw since the coup. The company provided the Tatmadaw with radar, sonar, a coastal surveillance system and a remote weapons station, according to export data.
Justice For Myanmar spokesman Yadanar Maung said that since the February 1 coup, the military has killed more than 1,200 civilians, including children, tortured thousands, raped, set fire to villages and launched indiscriminate airstrikes on houses.
âIt is deplorable that the Australian’s Future Fund seeks to profit from the companies that are arming the Burmese army and effectively funding its campaign of terror.
âIn the name of Australia’s ‘future’, taxpayer funds are invested in companies that provide the Burmese military with fighter jets, missiles, radars and provide millions of annual revenues for war criminals. It is time for Australia to stop profiting at the expense of the lives of the Burmese people and the future of Myanmar.
Other companies in which the Future Fund has regime-related investments include Sinotruk, which manufactures trucks used by the Tatmadaw but has denied selling the vehicles to the military. The fund invested $ 4.4 million in Sinotruk, which did not respond to questions from Guardian Australia.
The Future Fund’s biggest investment linked to Tatmadaw is in Korean steel giant Posco, which operates the Shwe gas project, a major source of income for the Burmese military. A subsidiary of Posco also negotiated the sale of a warship for the Burmese Navy. Posco did not respond to questions from the Guardian, but Jeong Joon-sung, a director of Posco, previously said, âWe do not believe that the activity of the gas fields is linked to the military junta.
The Future Fund also invested $ 33 million in Kirin, which is a joint venture with a company controlled by Tatmadaw in a brewing business in Myanmar. After the coup, Kirin suspended dividend payments to the Tatmadaw company, MEHL, and promised that it would stop doing business with it.
It has yet to do so and earlier this month MEHL asked Myanmar courts to wind up the joint venture – a ruling Kirin said was opposing it “due to doubts over fairness and relevance. of the liquidation process â.
Kirin spokesman Russell Roll said the company “has done everything possible to negotiate the end of the joint venture with MEHL.”
“However, MEHL did not cooperate in the negotiations, effectively rejecting our proposals,” he said.
âWe have been and continue to be deeply concerned about the recent actions of the military in Myanmar, which run counter to our human rights standards and policy.
The Future Fund did not respond to questions about its investments in companies linked to Tatmadaw.
In a statement, a spokesperson said: âIn line with its government mandate, the Future Fund has built a broadly diversified portfolio that includes passive investments through external investment managers in thousands of entities around the world.
“The fund has a well-established policy on environmental, social and governance issues and exclusions which takes into account its objectives, legislation, investment strategy, Australian law and the treaties the Australian government has entered into. and ratified. “