Razer co-founder and director Lim Kaling pulls out of Myanmar joint venture

Razer co-founder and director Lim Kaling said the situation caused him "grave concern". PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Razer co-founder and director Lim Kaling is selling his one third stake in a joint venture that owns RMH Singapore, a Singapore-based tobacco company which in turn owns 49 per cent of Virginia Tobacco Company Limited (VTCL), the military-linked market leader in Myanmar's tobacco market.

In a statement released early on Tuesday (Feb 9), Mr Lim said he had been closely monitoring the situation in Myanmar and recent events there caused him "grave concern".

"As a result, I have decided to exit my investment in Myanmar, disposing of my one-third stake in the joint venture that owns RMH Singapore.

"I am therefore exploring options for the responsible disposal of this stake," he said, adding that it is his only remaining investment in Myanmar, initiated nearly three decades ago under a very different circumstance.

An online petition begun by activist group Justice for Myanmar had urged Razer to remove Mr Lim from its board if he did not end his business ties with the Myanmar military.

In his statement, Mr Lim did not refer to the petition on Change.org, which had gained 851 signatures as of 9.24am on Tuesday, Singapore time. But the activist group claimed a victory, tweeting: "He heard our voices and acted. Thanks to all who signed. Keep up the fight."

Distinction Investments has three shareholders: Myanmar citizen George Yin Soon, Castlebay Investments, and Bright Seasons. Its directors are Mr Soon, who is also known as Kyaw Kyaw Htun; Mr Lim and Ong Beng Huat, brother of Singapore tycoon and hotelier, Ong Beng Seng.

Back in 1993, Mr Lim started Distinction Investments to address an economic opportunity in Myanmar as the country was opening up to the rest of the world.

"Through this venture, we had hoped to help the country spur economic growth, create jobs and raise standards of living," he said.

Mr Lim - who is the chairman of his 100-year old family business Lim Teck Lee - said he has always been a passive minority shareholder with no direct involvement in the operations of VTCL, which produces the popular Red Ruby and Premium Gold cigarette brands.

Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), a military-linked conglomerate with a significant portfolio across many Myanmar's industries from banking, tourism, real estate, transportation to gems and metals, holds the remaining 51 per cent stake in VTCL.

Myanmar's commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing - who led the military coup which seized control of the government from elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week - oversees MEHL. According to an Amnesty International report in September last year, the military chief owned 5,000 shares in MEHL in 2011.

Other foreign companies that invested in Myanmar have been under pressure from human rights groups for doing business in the country.

Last Friday, Japanese beer giant Kirin - which has been under scrutiny for some time over its relations with Myanmar military-owned breweries - said it was terminating its joint-venture partnership with MEHL. It said it was "deeply concerned by the recent actions of the military in Myanmar".

• With additional information from The Straits Times

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