- The Observer,
- Sunday July 27 2008
The London insurance connection propping up the murderous Burmese military dictatorship can be revealed in a development that will acutely embarrass leading City figures.
Three Lloyd's of London operators will be named as helping to insure the junta's state-owned airline Myanma Airways earlier this year. They are Kiln, Atrium and Catlin. All were contacted by The Observer and asked to explain their involvement but refused to comment.
Other Lloyd's syndicates have shared the risk of insuring the junta's shipping interests. Without shipping and aviation insurance, the Burmese government would not be able to export gems, timber, clothing, oil and gas, which would lead to economic ruin for the generals running the oppressed south-east Asian nation.
The London insurance involvement, to be exposed this week in a report by Burma Campaign UK, will acutely damage the reputation of the City. It is likely to trigger a wave of campaigns aiming to force Lloyd's of London to recommend that its members pull business from Burma. Campaigners are demanding a face-to-face meeting with Lloyd's chairman Lord Levene.
'The insurance industry is helping to fund the Burmese dictatorship. Insurance companies, including members of Lloyd's, are putting profits before ethics. They don't care that they're helping Burma's brutal regime fund the purchase of guns, bullets and tanks for their campaigns of repression and ethnic cleansing. In an age where companies like to claim they behave ethically, the truth is these companies are helping to finance a regime that rapes, tortures and kills civilians,' said Johnny Chatterton, Burma Campaign UK's campaign officer.
Lloyd's this weekend argued that its members were not breaking the law by insuring Burma's key infrastructure. While the US has imposed across-the-board sanctions on Burma, the European Union has taken a limited stance. EU sanctions cover gems and timber but not financial services. Despite pressure from the European parliament to extend sanctions, heads of state have failed to unanimously approve the measure.
Last night, Lloyd's said: 'Unless there are official international sanctions in place, we do not instruct the market where it can and cannot write business.'
Lloyd's intransigence will put pressure on the UK government to intervene. Gordon Brown has in the past made plain his disapproval of any business trading with Burma. It is unclear whether the Foreign Office has raised the issue with senior Lloyd's officials.
The Burma Campaign report will expose eight other insurance companies. While Lloyd's is vital to the regime, much business goes to Singapore and Thailand. By Burmese law, all insurance has to goes through Myanma Insurance, in which the state is the sole shareholder. It is an imprisonable offence to get insurance through any other organisation.