Sun, Apr 03, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Myanmar government closes suspect banks


Two private banks in Myanmar accused by the US of money laundering and links to drug traffickers have been ordered closed by the government for violating banking laws, the finance ministry said.

In an announcement Friday night on state television, the Ministry of Finance and Revenue said the licenses of the Asia Wealth Bank and the Myanmar Mayflower Bank had been revoked.

"It was found that these two banks have not strictly followed the banking regulations, thus their licenses were revoked effective March 31," said the announcement. It did not specify what the violations were.

Both banks have been accused by the US State Department of being involved in money laundering and having links to Southeast Asian drug trafficking groups.

In December 2003, Myanmar's military government said it had begun investigating the two banks under the provisions of new anti-money laundering rules which had just come into effect.

The investigation was supposed to take three months, and under the rules, the banks could have their assets seized if found guilty of money laundering.

The announcement did not say if the bank closures were linked to that investigation, whose results were not made public.

The rest of Myanmar's 18 private banks would continue operating normally, the announcement said.

It said central bank administrators would take over operations and begin the process of winding up the two bank's affairs.

Depositors could come to the banks beginning tomorrow to withdraw their money, the statement said. It also warned people owing money to the banks to make their payments or face legal action.

Both the Asia Wealth Bank and the Myanmar Mayflower Bank had been ailing since a national banking crisis in February and March 2003, when there were panic withdrawals by depositors from most of the country's banks.

The central bank was forced at the time to temporarily ban money transfers and limit withdrawals. It was also reported to have made huge loans to several banks, including the Asia Wealth Bank, to help keep them solvent.

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