Myanmar coup

Over 100,000 Myanmar company registrations leaked: here’s why it matters

As the international community deliberates effective sanctions on Myanmar’s military-owned enterprises, a leaked file containing company registrations was made public to little fanfare this week, connecting the military to multiple industries and sectors

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February 25, 2021
Over 100,000 Myanmar company registrations leaked: here’s why it matters
Demonstrators hold placards calling for support for the civil disobedience movement (CDM) during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon on 25 February. Photo: EPA-EFE/Lynn Bo Bo

More than 100,000 company registrations were leaked from a Myanmar site last week, revealing the internal financial documents of some of Myanmar’s largest and most powerful military-owned and connected corporations. 

Due to the enormity of the leaked data, organisations are slowly combing through this underreported but potentially comprising find. 

The data was provided by an anonymous hacktivist who mined it from two state websites run by the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA): Myanmar Companies Online (MyCO) and Beneficial Ownership Disclosure.

As the international community debates effective sanctions that won’t harm the population, the data will help researchers to cross reference company ownership with names of political candidates, revealing individuals in the military with a conflict of interest between their public position and their economic holdings. 

The information could result in better and more targeted sanctions, as well as a better consumer understanding, both nationally and internationally, of the vast network of Myanmar military-connected businesses that span the globe. The findings were posted on Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoS) – a platform founded in 2018 to provide space for information, often in the form of leaks or hacks – on February 20, but have gone largely unreported so far. 

According to DDoS’, the documents, packaged and referred to as the Myanmar Financials, will facilitate growing national boycotts – such as those on Myanmar Beer and telecoms company Mytel – around the country’s infamously murky military-owned enterprises.

“The data is useful for identifying their subsidiaries and businesses operated by people in the military, but that aren’t technically military-owned, along with businesses operated by the family of senior military officers,” said Emma Best, co-founder of DDoS. 

This 330-gigabyte file includes the identification of owners and other internal company documents, as well as over 3,000 public tenders – contract opportunities offered by the government inviting private companies to bid to fill a service. In Myanmar, where the military’s power and influence extends throughout the economy, public tender is sometimes met with bids from private, military-owned companies in a self-perpetuating cycle of tatmadaw wealth. 

It is imperative that a light is shed on the details of the structure and workings of MEHL that have been kept hidden from the public for far too long

Justice for Myanmar, an expose advocacy group whose work is centred on uncovering the vast network of military-owned enterprises and their international partners, say this economic leverage has allowed the generals to fund military campaigns and build vast personal fortunes. 

Justice for Myanmar highlighted one batch of documents obtained through the leak, which provides an inside look at Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), one of the largest military-owned private enterprises that encompases the mining, garment, banking, beer and tobacco industries.

“It is imperative that a light is shed on the details of the structure and workings of MEHL that have been kept hidden from the public for far too long,” Justice for Myanmar told the Globe via email. Given the nature of their work, the group only corresponds anonymously.

“Their objective to profit from government business, which is unlawful conflict of interest, is laid out bare in one of the documents obtained through the document release,” they said of their findings, which they plan to publish in the coming days. 

Given the military’s long history of human rights violations, including genocide in Rakhine state and war crimes nationwide, the financial gain from the military’s economic holdings are directly funding the population’s oppression. 

“This is clear evidence of the military leadership’s systemic corruption. Their state business is extensive and at the expense of the people of Myanmar,” Justice for Myanmar said. 

Justice for Myanmar says the information implicates MEHL in all industries in Myanmar, and in partnerships with corporations worldwide.

“The more people investigate and share their findings, the harder it will be for the Myanmar military and their associates to continue their business as usual,” they said. “It is also crucial evidence for the future recovery of stolen assets.”

Mark Farmaner, the Director of Burma Campaign UK, told the Globe that the release of the Myanmar Financials is well-timed as countries decide on how to place their sanctions.

“Governments often have requirements for detailed information on individuals and entities before they can sanction them, and the lack of transparency over company ownership in Myanmar makes this very challenging,” Farmaner said. “These documents will enable governments to be able to better understand the network of military companies.”

Although the file’s size means it’s unlikely to be read by the average citizen, Justice for Myanmar and DDoS both say it’s positive, as a matter of principle, that the public has access and can do their own research. With a huge amount of data left to sort through, the findings so far are just the tip of the iceberg. 

“The public deserves to have it, and journalists and researchers need to be able to realistically access the data,” DDoS’ Best said. “We know several organisations are already planning on folding the data into some of their long-term projects.”

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