Singapore magnate to axe army-linked Myanmar tobacco investment

Min-Liang Tan (left), co-founder and CEO of Razer, and Kaling Lim, non-executive director, pose during the debut of the company at the Hong Kong Exchanges in Hong Kong November 13, 2017. — Reuters pic
Min-Liang Tan (left), co-founder and CEO of Razer, and Kaling Lim, non-executive director, pose during the debut of the company at the Hong Kong Exchanges in Hong Kong November 13, 2017. — Reuters pic

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SINGAPORE, Feb 9 — A prominent Singapore businessman has said he will exit his investment in a tobacco firm linked to the Myanmar military, after the army deposed the country’s democratically elected government in a coup last week.

Lim Kaling, co-founder and director of Hong Kong-listed gaming group Razer, said in a statement today he was a minority shareholder in Virginia Tobacco Company through RMH Singapore Pte Ltd, which owns 49 per cent of the Myanmar firm.

The rest of Virginia Tobacco is owned by Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), one of two conglomerates run by the country’s military, according to a 2019 United Nations report.

“Recent events there (in Myanmar) cause me grave concern,” Lim said in the emailed statement, which followed an online petition calling on him to cut his exposure.

Lim said he was “exploring options for the responsible disposal” of his one-third stake in RMH, his only remaining Myanmar investment, but gave no timeframe.

Foreign firms with investments in Myanmar have come under increased scrutiny since the coup on February 1. Japanese drinks giant Kirin Holdings last week scrapped its beer alliance that tied it to MEHL.

MEHL’s scores of subsidiaries span a range of industries from ruby and jade mining to tourism and banking, and the conglomerate is owned and influenced by senior military leaders including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, according to the UN report.

Singapore has been the largest source of foreign investment into Myanmar in recent years, according to reports by both governments.

Lim’s announcement came after an online petition started by activist group Justice for Myanmar urged Razer to remove Lim from its board if he did not end his business ties with the Myanmar military.

Lim did not reference the petition in his statement, which gained 851 signatories, but the activist group claimed a victory.

“He heard our voices and acted. Thanks to all who signed. Keep up the fight,” the group said in a Twitter post.

Amnesty International had also called for RMH to cut its Myanmar ties, along with other companies including South Korea’s Posco. — Reuters

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