The latest U.S. sanctions on Myanmar target an army-controlled gems business rife with corruption and abuses that is one of the junta’s key sources of revenue.
It’s unclear if the sanctions will do much to close the taps of income and royalties from gems sales. Some estimates say more than half of such transactions are not declared, even though they are the country’s second biggest export after natural gas and oil.
The rights group Justice for Myanmar on Friday urged the U.S. government to expand penalties to include the Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise, which handles the country’s largest share of exports.
“It is imperative that other countries follow suit in sanctioning the key businesses enabling the Myanmar military’s criminal conduct,” said the group’s spokesperson, Yadanar Maung.
The most recent report from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative for 2016-17 found that gems, pearls and jade accounted for 13 percent of Myanmar’s natural resource revenues, with oil and gas accounting for 87 percent.
The sanctions announced on Thursday will freeze any assets held by the Myanma Gems Enterprise in the U.S. or in U.S. jurisdictions and bar American citizens from doing business with it.
The company oversees all gemstone activities in Myanmar, also known as Burma, the Treasury Department said in announcing the latest sanctions against the military leaders who seized power in a Feb. 1 coup.
That includes control of permits for mines, collecting royalties and overseas marketing and sales.
The gems trade is important enough that coup leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and Myanmar’s central bank governor were among the dignitaries who visited the opening of a gems, pearls and jade emporium earlier this month in the capital, Naypyitaw.
The U.S. and other governments have been ramping up sanctions in response to the coup and a deadly crackdown on mass pro-democracy protests. At least 598 protesters and bystanders have been killed by security forces since the coup and violence has spread from major cities to provincial towns.