Myanmar’s brutal junta makes another grab for cash with major auctions of illicit timber

Myanmar’s violent military junta is poised to hold massive auctions of illicit timber to replenish its coffers.

The military regime has announced the sale of 12,500 tons (11,340 tonnes) of timber, including large amounts of precious teak much prized for use on luxury yachts around the world as decking and fixtures.

Two sales are planned this month, the first tomorrow (16 September) and the second due to take place on 30 September.

The junta is turning to timber trade for hard currency (c) EIA

But EIA has warned all potential buyers in Canada, the EU, UK and US – and any buyer using US dollars – that any purchases they might make would automatically break current economic sanctions imposed by those countries.

In addition to Europe’s sanctions, any timber imports to the EU would automatically also be in breach of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which requires due diligence to trace all imported wood back to the point of cutting to block illegal timber from entering the market. EU member states have adopted a common position that Myanmar timber cannot be imported in compliance with the EUTR. For the same reasons, imports into the UK would breach the UK Timber Regulation.

Faith Doherty, our Forests Campaigns Leader, said: “Once again, we see the Myanmar military seeking to cash in on the country’s natural resources to fill its pockets and fund its reign of terror.

“To any timber trader or company thinking of participating in this auction, we say this: don’t be in any doubt that if you purchase timber from Myanmar you are buying blood wood – you are directly funding an horrendous regime to continue its routine abductions, illegal detentions, murders and systematic trampling of human rights, as well as the destruction of Myanmar’s forests.”

Kyaw Minn Htut (c) EIA

The junta’s brutal attitude to the people protecting the country’s forests has become even more clear in the past week as it detained forest defender Kyaw Min Htut and his family on implausible terrorism charges, putting their lives in danger.

Previous auctions of timber to benefit the junta have been organised and conducted by the Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE), the State-run entity which controls all timber sales from the country.

However, it is understood the junta has been struggling to advertise the auction as the MTE is affected by the Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar.

Doherty said: “For the past week, any information on this auction has come through the media. However, the MTE website has only just been able to make public, in Burmese, that this auction will take place online. With hundreds of civil servants either on strike or fired for not continuing their work, the forest department is unable to manage the country’s forests and exports. It is clear the Civil Disobedience Movement is doing its job and the military-controlled Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental  (MONREC) is broken.”

All auctions in Myanmar are opaque. Since the February coup, they have been conducted in an even murkier manner, whereby serious traders place a deposit of $10,000 before bidding for a final price. All transactions are finalised in US dollars and any transparency or traceability is hidden unless one pays the deposit.

Doherty added: “Any trader entering into this auction and paying US dollars to do so is knowingly breaking these sanctions – they need to be aware that the fiscal authorities will be given the information they need to ensure sanctions are complied with and EIA will ensure that not only will proper enforcement actions be taken but all companies will be exposed.”