Soros-linked group calls for release of employee in Myanmar

NEW YORK • Open Society Foundations, a philanthropic organisation founded by American billionaire George Soros, has called for the immediate release of an employee held in Myanmar, saying allegations of financial misconduct are false.

Open Society has helped fund Myanmar media outlets and civil society groups for years.

State media announced on Monday that the authorities had accused the organisation's local branch, Open Society Myanmar (OSM), of directing funds to the civil disobedience campaign opposing military rule in the country.

Bank accounts belonging to OSM were frozen and last week, a finance officer was taken into custody, according to the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a long-time mouthpiece of the military. Arrest warrants were issued for another 11 OSM employees, the paper added.

It said OSM transferred funds without seeking permission from the Foreign Exchange Management Department. The group then exchanged US$1.4 million (S$1.9 million) into Myanmar's kyat currency "without following the necessary rules and regulations", the paper said.

The New York-headquartered Open Society said on Tuesday that there was no truth to the claims and called for the "immediate release" of the detained finance officer.

"We are alarmed by reports that the authorities are seeking to interrogate other staff members," said a statement from the group.

"These allegations suggest a worrying attempt to attack and discredit those who wish for a return to peace and democracy in Myanmar.

"Claims of financial misconduct, including that OSM acted illegally by withdrawing its own funds in local currency from the SMID bank, are false."

The Myanmar newspaper published a picture of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi meeting Mr Soros in 2016 in New York, and of her meeting his son Alexander Soros in Myanmar, but it did not link Ms Suu Kyi or Open Society Foundations to any alleged irregular transfer of funds.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2021, with the headline 'Soros-linked group calls for release of employee in Myanmar'. Subscribe