KBZ responds to Global Witness report

In light of a report published last week on Myanmar’s jade trade, officials from Kanbawza (KBZ) Group say their reputation is unlikely to be tarnished.

The research, by non-profit Global Witness, claims that the illicit jade industry was worth up to US$31 billion last year alone, and is controlled by networks of military officials and politically influential business tycoons, while local people face unabating conflict and poverty.

It claims KBZ chair U Aung Ko Win has close ties with the Ever Winner network of companies, one of the biggest players in the industry with a total of 12 mining firms.

Senior managing director U Nyo Myint of KBZ Group told The Myanmar Times that jade mining is the company’s first business and a “prime and legal source of income for the other businesses in the conglomerate”.

“This is not a secret, since from the beginning we publicised where our business comes from,” he said, adding that the company has tried its best to comply with international standards of transparency, including cooperating with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and paying regular taxes.

Global Witness met with KBZ during its year-long investigation into the sector, and was satisfied with the company’s cooperation, he said.

“We regard the report as being for the good of the country. KBZ will continue to collaborate with Global Witness to upgrade the standard of the mining industry in Myanmar,” he added.

All of KBZ’s jade and gem products are sold through emporiums organised by the government, he said, adding that the company pays tax on every sale.

Senior managing director U Than Cho of KBZ Bank confirmed that the company’s roots are in the jade trade.

It has since grown into a conglomerate with interests in insurance, agriculture, aviation, real estate and trade. Its bank has become the largest domestic private bank with the most branches in the country, he said. According to U Nyo Myint, nearly 40 percent of nationwide deposits are held in KBZ Bank.

Global Witness points out in its report that KBZ’s bank is now around three times larger than its nearest private sector rival. “What is it doing that its competitors are not? Does jade provide part of the answer and, if so, where and whom is it coming from,” it said.

The company has won a range of awards both internationally and in Myanmar, topping the Ministry of Finance’s list of top taxpayers as well as a survey of leading Myanmar companies’ transparency levels by the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, said Global Witness.

“While the company’s commitment to greater transparency is laudable, its relationship with the jade business remains opaque,” it said.

A government senior official told local media that officials have no plan to investigate the findings of the report. However, a Central Bank of Myanmar official said authorities will closely monitor the impact of the report on confidence in KBZ Bank, as it is the largest bank by deposits in the country.

Source: Myanmar Times

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