Myanmar: City publisher Euromoney gave 'best bank' award to a lender linked to military regime

Myanmar activists have demanded a leading UK finance industry publication withdraw a prestigious award it gave to a bank closely linked to the sanctioned military regime.

The Justice For Myanmar group said the decision by London-based publisher Euromoney to give United Amara Bank (UAB) its Best Bank in Myanmar award in July was a “betrayal” of the country’s people.

Until it was suddenly restructured under apparently new owners in March – just days after the EU imposed sanctions on key business figures in the country – UAB was controlled by Ne Aung, who has links to the Myanmar military.

The EU noted in its February sanctions designation that Ne Aung is “closely connected to the top leadership of the Myanmar Armed Forces”.

While UAB itself was not listed for sanctions, the EU said Ne Aung’s conglomerate, International Group of Entrepreneurs (IGE), “provides support to and benefits from the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military]”. Ne Aung is not listed for sanctions.

UAB said Ne Aung ceased to be an executive in 2017 and stopped being a shareholder in 2022.

But promotional posts on the UAB website quote Ne Aung as UAB chairman as recently as January 2021, suggesting he held a powerful position and was active in overseeing the bank.

Weeks before the military coup in February last year, a reality TV program, Money Hunt, was launched with Ne Aung serving as a judge. His bio: Chairman of UAB and IGE.

And filings from Myanmar’s company registry shows Ne Aung was a director at UAB until 25 February 2022 – four days after the EU sanctions against IGE were imposed.

UAB: bank linked to brutal military regime

On paper, UAB is now owned by Capital Link Investment and Future Growth Investment. They were both incorporated on 1 March in Myanmar – only eight days after the EU sanctions kicked in.

Activists criticised Euromoney, which last year generated revenues of £336m and is set to be bought out by two private equity firms for £1.7 billion, for issuing the award.

A spokesperson for Justice for Myanmar said: “Ne Aung and his crony companies must be sanctioned for having links to the illegitimate Myanmar military junta, not fêted with awards.”

Euromoney justified its “award for excellence” because UAB grew 120% in five years and promotes entrepreneurship through a reality TV show.

Euromoney editor, Louise Bowman said the publication receives several written pitches for awards in Myanmar each year. “In Myanmar, our first filter is to check that the bank is not on a sanctions list, nor directly owned by anyone known to be linked to sanctioned entities.

“With that done, we then move to the nuts and bolts of return on equity, loan growth and so on: that’s what we do.”

Bowman added: “UAB is not a sanctioned entity, and …is owned by companies which are owned by individuals ‘who lack an obvious link’ to those figures. Euromoney absolutely does not reward banks we believe to have any degree of military ownership.”

Ne Aung’s father, Aung Thaung, now dead, was sanctioned by the US in 2014, for “perpetuating violence, oppression, and corruption”. He was an industry minister when the country was controlled by a military junta for 23 years to 2011.

Ne Aung’s brother, Moe Aung, is the current Myanmar Navy chief and a former director of military conglomerates, in close proximity to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.

The UK has not sanctioned Ne Aung or IGE group.