Authors Bernstein and Kean reply
Strange bedfellows. Opinion editorial
By Dr Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Prty.
Protesters demand accountability from PM Goh on drugs
The Nation (US) November 24, 1997.
Letter: Jean Tan, Singapore Embassy, Washington, USA
The Singapore government's response again confirms the fact that the government, through the GIC and the Myanmar Fund, was doing business with legendary drug trafficker Lo Hsing Han of Burma. Indeed, the rush in August to shut down the Myanmar Fund--only one aspect of a complicated web of investments with Lo and Burma's narco-dictatorship--is a clear indication that something is very wrong. (As we noted in our article, Lo and his company Asia World are under investigation by narcotics officials in several countries.)
Beyond this, Jean Tan's specific criticisms do not address the substance of our article. Nowhere did we say that the GIC's use of Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. as a custodian was "sinister or secret." The newsworthy point is that a major US financial institution had business ties to a known heroin dealer.
Furthermore, Tan's assertion that the GIC was merely a "passive investor" is belied by the fund's own documents, one of which says that the GIC is a "core shareholder" and as such has a representative on the investment committee of the fund. "The committee will determine whether investment proposals are viable and whether they should be approved for investment by the Fund" says the 1994 document. (As manager of the GIC since 1991, Eddie Taw Cheng Kong was the GIC representative on the fund investment committee until very recently. Taw was sentenced in May to nine years in jail and a $2.4 million fine for accepting bribes from companies whose shares were purchased by the GIC.)
Tan's statement on Dr Chee Soon Juan's refusal to set up a commission is misleading. Dr Chee was not a member of parliament and thus would have been excluded from the commission. His colleagues in parliament were afraid of lawsuits and other repercussions. Dr Chee had already been the target of a government defamation suit and was forced to sell his house and borrow heavily to avoid bankruptcy. Amnesty International says that Singapore's leaders are systematically "resorting to defamation suits as a politically-motivated tactic to silence critical views and curb opposition activity."
Chee still had the courage to speak out, but his questions (in a letter to the prime minister and the Straits Times) remain unanswered by the ruling elite: Is Lo Hsing Han allowed to move freely in and out of Singapore, for example? Has the government investigated the background of Lo's son Steven Law, who has been denied a US visa on suspicion of drug trafficking? Will the government state clearly that Burma's junta is not helping or turning a blind eye to drug trafficking?
Although the Myanmar Fund is now undergoing liquidation, these investments represented only a small part of Singapore's total investment in Burma. The US government has reported that more than half Singapore's $1 billion-plus investment in Burma is tied to Lo Hsing Han and his family.
Dennis Bernstein and Leslie Kean
Mill Valley, Calif. USA.
Two Further Notes: The Kerry Investment Management reports that the Myanmar Fund "was formally placed into Liquidation on 29th August 1997."
In response to the question: Is there any other Fund that has taken its place to continue Singapore's investments in Burma? The Singapore Embassy in the US responds, "No other Fund has been set up to replace the Myanmar Fund."