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Critics blast FIFA support for Burmese regime crony

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Members of Burma’s opposition criticised FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the organization’s general secretary Jerome Valcke for visiting Burma this week at the invitation of Myanmar Football Federation President Zaw Zaw.  

During his two-day trip, Blatter, the head of the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), which governs world football, went to a FIFA-funded football academy in Mandalay and met with Burma’s Prime Minister Thein Sein.
Burmese critics question why FIFA continues to give the Myanmar Football Federation US$ 250,000 annually when its chairman Zaw Zaw is a key business associate of the leader of the Burmese military junta, General Than Shwe, who is blacklisted by the Swiss, EU and US financial sanctions and travel bans. Zaw Zaw is also a target of sanctions.

Khun Myint Tun, a National League for Democracy (NLD) member of Parliament, elected in Burma’s annulled May 1990 election, told Mizzima that by giving money to the Myanmar Football Federation controlled by Zaw Zaw, FIFA is ‘adding to the massive system of corruption that feeds the generals and their allies’.  

Khun Myint Tun’s concerns were echoed by fellow former political prisoner Bo Kyi, the joint-secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma.  Bo Kyi told Mizzima that the Burmese regime was attempting to gain popularity in football-crazy Burma by using FIFA for its own propaganda. According to Bo Kyi, ‘The military regime and Zaw Zaw are exploiting Blatter’s trip for their own purposes’.

In a phone interview, British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings told Mizzima that he was not surprised by FIFA’s decision to embrace Zaw Zaw and the Burmese military regime because Blatter needs the support of the Myanmar Football Federation for his re-election as FIFA chief in June.  Jennings describes Blatter as being ‘on a desperate election tour at the moment, trying to split the Asian confederation because his expected challenger is from the Asian confederation’.

According to Jennings, the FIFA president is not worried about international criticism and is more concerned about being re-elected as head of FIFA.

Jennings is the award-winning author of an explosive book alleging vote rigging and bribery at FIFA titled, ‘Foul – The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals’. He described Blatter’s organization as suffering from ‘institutionalized corruption’. Jennings also noted that on a previous world tour in 1999, Blatter visited Liberia’s then dictator Charles Taylor.  Taylor is now on trial in The Hague for alleged war crimes in Liberia and neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Thomas Graf, the deputy head of the Swiss government's sanctions division, was asked by Mizzima if the Swiss government was concerned about FIFA and Blatter, who is a Swiss citizen, cooperating with Zaw Zaw. He said the Swiss sanctions targeting Zaw Zaw and his wife are separate from the work of the Myanmar Football Federation because it is not specifically mentioned in the sanctions list.

According to Graf: ‘Our sanctions are targeted and aim only at those listed, e.g. Mr. Zaw Zaw. The Myanmar Football Federation is not Mr. Zaw Zaw’s private property and therefore our sanctions should not impact the federation’.

Although the Myanmar Football Federation is not listed on the Swiss Burma sanction’s list, Zaw Zaw’s construction company, Max Myanmar Construction Co. Ltd, which received the contract to build the Mandalay soccer academy using money from a FIFA special grant of US$ 400,000 is included on the list. 

Bo Kyi said the Swiss government should investigate FIFA’s relationship with the Myanmar Football Federation regardless of whether it is registered as a company or an association because ‘it is still controlled by junta crony Zaw Zaw with the support of the military regime’.

Khun Myint Tun said he was disappointed with the Swiss government’s position, claiming that Myanmar Football Federation’s exemption from Swiss sanctions gives Zaw Zaw ‘a massive loophole to continue to pursue his business interests in Switzerland’.

Zaw Zaw’s business interests in Burma are reported to have greatly benefitted from his close ties to General Than Shwe.  A 2009 diplomatic cable written by staff at the US embassy in Rangoon and released by Wikileaks and the Guardian newspaper described Zaw Zaw as ‘one of several mid-level cronies actively attempting to curry favor with the regime and to use his government ties to expand his commercial enterprises’.

Zaw Zaw’s growing business empire which includes the Max Myanmar Group of Companies, according to the cable, also includes a ‘concrete block factory in Nay Pyi Taw, a jade mine in Phakhant, and a rubber plantation in Mon State’.   The cable also states that Zaw Zaw operates the ‘Lone Khin jade mine in conjunction with the Ministry of Mines and recently received an additional 50 acres of land in Phakhant for jade mine development’.

Burma’s jade industry is notorious for its use of both forced and child labour and has been cited by the US government and numerous human rights organizations as a major source of human rights abuses in Burma. 

The Karen Human Rights group reported that in 2008, Zaw Zaw received land for rubber plantations that had been forcibly confiscated by the military regime from villagers in Mon State.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 17 March 2011 15:49 )  

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