Myanmar army hires Israeli-Canadian lobbyist for US$2 million to explain 'real situation'

Myanmar army hires Israeli-Canadian lobbyist for US$2 million to explain 'real situation'

People flee to safety during an anti-coup protest in Loikaw
People flee to safety during an anti-coup protest in Loikaw, Myanmar March 9, 2021 in this still image obtained by Reuters

WASHINGTON: An Israeli-Canadian lobbyist hired by Myanmar's junta will be paid US$2 million to "assist in explaining the real situation" of the army's coup to the United States and other countries, documents filed with the US Justice Department show.

More than 60 protesters have been killed and 1,900 people have been arrested since Feb 1, when Myanmar's generals seized power and detained civilian leaders including State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ari Ben-Menashe and his firm, Dickens & Madson Canada, will represent Myanmar's military government in Washington, as well as lobby Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Russia, and international bodies such as the United Nations, according to a consultancy agreement.

The Montreal-based firm will "assist the devising and execution of policies for the beneficial development of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, and also to assist in explaining the real situation in the Country," read the agreement.

Anti-coup protesters stand behind a line of women's clothing hanged
Anti-coup protesters stand behind a line of women's clothing hanged across a road to deter security personnel from entering the protest area in Yangon, Myanmar on Mar 9, 2021. (AP Photo)

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The agreement was submitted on Monday to the Justice Department as part of compliance with the US Foreign Agents Registration Act and published online.

A spokesman for the Myanmar military government did not answer telephone calls from Reuters seeking comment.

In a pitch that has been met with widespread skepticism, Ben-Menashe told Reuters he had been tasked with convincing the United States that Myanmar's generals wanted to move closer to the West and away from China.

He said the generals wanted to resettle Rohingya Muslims who fled a 2017 military assault for which the United Nations has accused those same generals of overseeing a genocide.

"It is highly implausible that he could convince the United States of the narrative he’s proposing," said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

Protesters display placards and flash a three-fingered sign of resistance on a main road during a demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar, Monday, March 8, 2021. Large protests have occurred daily across many cities and towns in Myanmar. (AP Photo)

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Other documents submitted by Ben-Menashe showed the agreement was reached with the junta's defense minister, General Mya Tun Oo and that the government would pay the firm US$2 million.

Mya Tun Oo and other top generals have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department and the Canadian government, so the paperwork says the payment will be made "when legally permissible".

Lawyers told Reuters that Ben-Menashe could be in breach of sanctions.

“To the extent that he is providing services to sanctioned parties from the United States without authorisation, that would appear to be a violation of US law,” said Peter Kucik, a former senior sanctions adviser at the U.S. Treasury.

The US Treasury Department declined to comment.

Protesters hold portraits of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi during an anti-coup demonstration in Mandalay on Mar 5, 2021. (AP Photo)

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Ben-Menashe told Reuters he had received legal advice that he would need licenses from Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) and the Canadian government to accept the payment, but that he would not be breaking the law by lobbying for the junta.

"There's technicalities here but we'll leave it to the lawyers and OFAC to deal with it," he said, adding his lawyers were in touch with Treasury officials.


Meanwhile on Tuesday, the UN Security Council failed to agree on a statement that would have condemned the coup in Myanmar, called for restraint by the military and threatened to consider "further measures," though diplomats said talks would likely continue.

During an initial bid to finalise the text, China, Russia, India and Vietnam all suggested amendments late on Tuesday to a British draft, diplomats said, including removal of the reference to a coup and the threat to consider further action.

Such statements by the 15-member body are agreed by consensus.

Police and protesters clash at a protest in Myanmar's commercial capital, Yangon
Police and protesters clash at a protest in Myanmar's commercial capital, Yangon. (Photo: AFP/STR)

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The Security Council issued a statement to the press last month voicing concern over the state of emergency imposed by the Myanmar military and calling for the release of all those detained, but stopped short of condemning the coup due to opposition from Russia and China.

"Every member state has a role to play individually and collectively. Collectively, we are always looking for a strong voice and strong action from the Security Council," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters earlier on Tuesday.

The draft Security Council statement, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, called "on the military to exercise utmost restraint, emphasises that it is following the situation closely, and states its readiness to consider possible further measures."

Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng said she begged the authorities 'not to shoot and torture the
Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng said she begged the authorities 'not to shoot and torture the children'. (Photo: AFP/Handout)

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An independent UN human rights investigator on Myanmar and New York-based Human Rights Watch have called on the Security Council to impose a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions on the junta.

But in an effort to preserve council unity on Myanmar, diplomats said sanctions were unlikely to be considered any time soon as such measures would probably be opposed by China and Russia, who - along with the United States, France and Britain - are council veto powers.

The draft statement, which the council began discussing after a closed briefing on Friday on the situation, strongly condemned "the use of violence against peaceful protesters".

It also have expressed "deep concern at violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including restrictions on medical personnel, civil society, journalists and media workers, and calls for the immediate release of all those detained".

Source: Reuters/aj