Total rejected calls by campaigns to withhold payments to the Myanmar military junta from its oil gas project in the country, saying it would violate the law and endanger local employees.
The energy group also said it has no plans to stop production at the offshore Yadana gas field, which it said was used to generate electricity for millions of people in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and western Thailand.
Comments by Patrick Pouyanné, Chairman and CEO of Total, u letter released over the weekend, brought the French company into opposition to Myanmar’s civil disobedience movement, which sought to stifle sources of revenue for the junta from the Feb. 1 coup that toppled the Aung San Suu Kyi government.
“The first thing to remember is that non-payment of taxes is a crime under local law,” Pouyanné said, adding that Total did not actually pay “absolutely no tax” to the army since the coup “for the simple reason that banking system it doesn’t work anymore. “
He added that the company was considering putting a monthly tax of $ 4 million on an escrow account, “but such non-payment would expose the management of our subsidiary to arrest and imprisonment.” Pouyanné also said that Total would donate the equivalent of the tax owed to the state by human rights groups in Myanmar.
Total is the operator and largest shareholder of the Yadana gas field off the coast of southern Myanmar. Terrain and its pipelines run with Chevron, Thai PTT and Myanmar’s state oil and gas company as its partners.
Human rights groups ia shadow government , representing the overthrown National League for Democracy, lawmakers called on foreign energy companies to freeze all payments to MOGE from the coup. However, the multinationals pointed out that most of what they paid to the state was in the form of natural gas used to produce electricity.
Justice for Myanmar, a campaign group leading calls for companies to sever ties with the military, rejected Pouyanné’s explanation.
“Total will be complicit in the crimes of the Myanmar junta against humanity if payments to the military begin,” spokesman Yadanar Maung said, describing the offer of donations to human rights groups as “a creepy and meaningless equation that coincides with the lives of our people.”
The UN has condemned the military use of violence against anti-coup protesters, and the United States and Britain sanctions imposed against the leader of the junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, other high-ranking officials and military-affiliated companies. Armies violent suppression resulted in at least 557 deaths and more than 2,600 arrests, according to the leading human rights group.
Pouyanné said Total had given instructions to stop drilling, dismantle the plant and stop gas discoveries on the coastal block.
However, he said the French group would suspend gas operations in Yadana only if it was no longer possible to safely produce it due to “dramatic events taking place on land”.
Pouyanné said Thai authorities had also warned Total of the “importance” of the gas field for western Thailand. “Can a company like Total decide to reduce the supply of electricity to millions of people – causing the closure of hospitals and businesses, depriving them of everyday life – with all the consequences it will have?”
He also warned that withdrawing from Myanmar could expose local Total employees to forced labor.
“Having seen the junta’s practices in other economic sectors, and given the vital importance of this gas for electricity generation, we have no doubt that the junta will not hesitate to force our employees to produce that gas by forced labor,” he said.
Total’s remarks echoed in them made by Chevron, which was also under campaign pressure. Chevron said last month that its direct payments were limited to taxes and that it played no role in the further distribution of the gas that MOGE received.
Malaysian Petronas last week declared force majeure on its Yetagun oil field, citing a drop in production due to its decision.
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