YANGON, 23 April 2021: Justice For Myanmar alleges one of the region’s top hotel companies, Shangri-La Group, has an ongoing business link with Myanmar’s military junta that overthrew the elected government in the 1 February coup.
The covert activists campaigning for justice and accountability for the people of Myanmar alleged in a 16 April statement that the hospitality group, listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, leases land from the army’s quartermaster general’s office for its five-star Sule Square complex.
TTR Weekly sought clarification from the Shangri-La communications office in Hong Kong on the group’s links to Sule Square. The group acknowledged receipt but at press time had not responded to JFM’s allegations.
JFM argues that Shangri-La Asia failed to respond to the recommendations of the UN Fact-Finding Mission to cut ties with the military.
Its statement reads, “since the 1 February illegal coup, the military has been carrying out deliberate violent attacks on Myanmar people, killing more than 700 and arresting more than 3,000 protesters across the country. Under these circumstances, we call for immediate international action against Shangri-La Asia.”
Justice For Myanmar spokesperson, Yadanar Maung, alleges that Shangri-La continues a relationship with the army’s quartermaster general that stands accused of purchasing weapons used to murder Myanmar citizens.
“We call for decisive action against Shangri-La until it ends its business links with the Myanmar military. Businesses must stand with the people of Myanmar, who are risking their lives to build a federal democracy that is free from the military’s violence and oppression.”
JFM is demanding that the Hong Kong Stock Exchange take regulatory action against Shangri-La Asia for links, direct or indirect, to the military junta through the land lease on the Sule Square Development project.
It has also called for tenants of Sule Square, including the World Bank, Coca Cola, the American Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar, and Yara to end office leases and cut all ties with the Myanmar military;
JFM claims the luxury mix-use development on prime Yangon land is a product of the military’s control of public assets.
“The military has taken control of lucrative tracts of land and commercialized them, earning off-budget revenue and enriching top generals, outside of any civilian oversight. This revenue, which belongs to the people of Myanmar, fuels the military’s atrocity crimes against them instead of benefiting them.”
JFM alleges that while most of the military-owned international real estate developments involve proxy companies, Sule Square stands out as an exception. It argues that Shangri-La holds the lease with the army directly, claiming the deal was negotiated in the 1990s under Myanmar’s last military dictatorship through a Kouk family holding companies that own Shangri-La Group.
Who are the Kuoks?
Tan Sri Robert Kuok is Malaysia’s richest person, with a net worth of USD2.5 billion, owns the Kuok Group, and founded the renowned and highly respected Shangri-La hospitality group. JFM claims his niece, Madam Kay Kuok Oon Kwong, runs Shangri-La Hotels Malaysia and is a director of Traders Square, the developer of Sule Square.
The advocacy group contends that in 1996, the same year that student democracy protests were brutally crushed by the military, the Kuok Group signed the land lease for Sule Square with the quartermaster general a senior military position that is responsible for the purchase of arms and plays a key role in the military’s business empire.
In 2012, the ground-breaking ceremony was held, and Sule Square opened in 2017 under the management of Shangri-La Asia, which is also the majority owner of Traders Square, according to company disclosures.
JFM claims that neither Shangri-La nor the Myanmar army has disclosed details of the land lease payments the quartermaster general receives for Sule Square, but it could be substantial given the high land value in downtown Yangon.
In 2015, Shangri-La appointed Colliers International as the sole leasing representative of Sule Square. Colliers is a Canadian real estate firm listed on the New York Stock Exchange and boasts former Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a director. Colliers also has an office in the complex.
Canada’s Globe and Mail sought comment from Colliers International on their links to Sule Square. A spokesperson distanced the firm from their Myanmar franchisee, and when pressed, stated that Colliers is “not in a position to discuss the terms and conditions of the agreement with the franchisee in Myanmar.”
Colliers International’s response could be interpreted as a breach of their human rights responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the OECD Guidelines, and the company’s own code of ethics, which applies to affiliates.
In 2019, the UN Fact-Finding Mission recommended that companies cut commercial ties with the military, including “all of their subsidiaries and business relationships”.
Major Sule Square tenants
American Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar
Emerging Markets Investment Advisors
McKinsey & Company
Myanmar Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce and Industry
University of Reading overseas representative
(Source: DICA and company websites)
(Story source: Justice for Myanmar.)
TTR Weekly sought a response from Shangri-La Group’s communications office earlier this week. We will update the report accordingly with the group’s comments and clarification.