How we helped reveal Heineken and Carlsberg tax payments to Myanmar military junta
War crimes and human rights atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar military junta following its 2021 coup triggered the exit of many multinational companies from the country.
But thanks to a leak of Myanmar Internal Revenue Department filings, we discovered that two European drinks giants – Denmark’s Carlsberg and Heineken from the Netherlands – maintained a profitable presence.
Campaigners argued the tens of millions of dollars in alcohol duty and corporation tax paid by these drink firms to the country’s treasury helped keep the regime afloat.
The companies argued it was important to keep a presence in the country to help protect their staff there and that they had no choice but to pay all taxes.
The leak was obtained by US transparency non profit, Distributed Denial of Secrets and passed to Justice For Myanmar (JFM), a group of covert researchers with whom Finance Uncovered has worked on several stories since 2020.
JFM asked us to analyse the filings and together we discovered that between October and December 2021 – nine months after the coup – Heineken made revenues of MMK 28 billion (US$15.6 million) from selling “various types of beer”.
Beer is subject to a specific goods tax in Myanmar at a rate of 60 per cent. Heineken Myanmar paid MMK 16.8 billion (US$9.35 million) in this tax, the filings showed.
If sales of beer were at the same level throughout 2021, this would mean that Heineken had sold more than US$60 million worth of beer and paid more than US$37 million in this specific goods tax alone. This would not include any payments of sales tax or corporate income tax.
Under Myanmar’s last dictatorship, Heineken was targeted in a boycott campaign for doing business with the military. It pulled out in 1996.
Heineken returned to Myanmar in 2015, after a 20-year absence. At that time, Myanmar was seen by brewers as a growth market where beer consumption was lower than in other Asian countries.
The leaks also showed Carlsberg Myanmar, whose parent company is based in Denmark, paid MMK 3.18 billion (US$1.7 million) in commercial tax in the year to September 2021, not including corporate income tax.
The documents do not show how much profit the company made that year.
As the junta waged war on its own people, tax filings for the three months to December 2021 showed that Carlsberg Myanmar made total sales worth MMK 11.8 billion ($6.7m). These sales triggered a specific good tax payment of MMK 7.13 billion ($4m).
Carlsberg started brewing beer in Myanmar in 2015 via a joint venture with the local Myanmar Golden Star Breweries.
The leaked filings showed that Carlsberg’s best-selling beer in Myanmar was Yoma Special Brew, a local brand of strong beer (ABV 6.5 per cent) which accounted for nearly half its sales in the last three months of 2021.
Impact – International front page coverage
We briefed journalists in Denmark and the Netherlands on our findings.
In Denmark, the story splashed the front page of Politiken, the leading Danish newspaper.
Carlsberg business in Myanmar splashed Politiken's front page
In addition to the financial findings, JFM research suggested that Carlsberg’s joint venture partner had links to the military. Following publication, Carlsberg launched an internal probe to investigate the claims.
Journalist and author, Olivier Van Beeman also wrote a story for the Follow the Money site in the Netherlands.