Saturday, November 25, 2017
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The downfall of millionaire “Mr X”, long shielded by cash and contacts in Laos, has highlighted the role of the secretive, communist country in showering pills across Southeast Asia.

Allegedly a key figure among gangs buying drugs from Myanmar’s meth labs, Laotian Xaysana Keophimpha — dubbed ‘Mr X’ — is believed to have used his graft-riddled country to shuttle narcotics south, first through Thailand then onto Malaysia.

[The Mekong middlemen running drugs across Asia]

The heavy-set 42-year-old was arrested by armed Thai police on 19 January at Bangkok’s main airport en route to Laos where he lived freely, revelling in a lifestyle of celebrity parties and supercars.

He denies charges of drug possession and smuggling.

But subsequent police operations have turned up several more men accused of running drugs through Laos, an opaque country whose role in the regional narcotics trade is gradually emerging.

They are the suspected middlemen of the ‘Golden Triangle’, shifting pills, ice and heroin from the world’s second largest drug producing zone to a regional market.

Among the accused is Xaysana’s friend Sisouk Daoheoung — a minor Laos celebrity with a penchant for thoroughbred horses and a shared devotion to fast cars and fancy holidays flaunted on social media.

If police are right, their ostentation in one of Asia’s poorest countries was funded by smuggling highly-addictive caffeine-laced methamphetamine pills — better known as ‘yaba’ or crazy medicine — and crystal meth (ice).

“From Xaysana’s phone and Facebook records it was clear he and Sisouk are friends… their (drug) groups are connected,” Thai Police Major-General Supakit Srijantranon told AFP last week.

Meth men

At $8 a pop in Thailand, the best yaba pills rise in price the further they move from source, bringing extraordinary rewards to the traffickers.

Stamped with a distinctive ‘WY’, the pink and green pills of the Myanmar drug labs are supercharging everyone from Malaysian farm hands to Bangkok’s “Hi-So” (high society) party crowd.

Each year regional seizures break records, according to the UN’s crime agency.

That points to better law enforcement, they say, but it also show that the cartels can ramp up production at will to cover losses.

The highest quality pills (15-20 percent meth purity) come from the factories of the North and South Wa — armed ethnic groups marshalling a self-governing state on the Myanmar-China border — and by the Lahu hill tribe.

Poor, corrupt and bordering five countries, Laos makes for an ideal transit route to the rest of Southeast Asia.

Drugs are shifted across the Mekong river into Thailand then onto Malaysia and beyond.

Thailand is being hit hard by the trade.

Between October last year and April, Thailand seized 74 million pills, according to the kingdom’s Narcotics Control Board (NCB), as well as two tonnes of crystal meth and 320 kilogrammes of heroin.

Official estimates say the kingdom has around 1.3 million addicts, with drug convictions accounting for the bulk of Thailand’s prison population of 290,000 — the tenth highest incarceration rate in the world.

“Drugs are destroying everything. They affect the security of our country, our society and people,” NCB secretary-general Sirinya Sitdhichai told AFP.

Cops are fighting back and say they have battered three major Laos-linked drug networks, confiscating tens of millions of dollars-worth of assets including hotels, cars, cash and even a horse riding school in Vientiane.

They are still hunting a fourth group led by Usman Salameang, a Thai believed to be holed up in Laos, wanted for moving gear through Thailand’s violent border area into Malaysia.

“He is the only big boss we are still trying to arrest,” Sirinya said.

All roads lead to Laos

Historically, communist Laos has been reluctant to admit it has a drug problem.

But under Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith the country is keen to show it is flushing out criminals and corrupt officials.

The recent arrests are part of his get-tough message to the drug gangs.

Last year Laos authorities reeled in a record 144 kilogrammes of crystal meth and nearly 21 million yaba pills.

The once toothless Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC), has been beefed up under control of the Ministry of Public Security.

The fall of Xaysana and co. is being bundled up as victory for intelligence-sharing between Laos and Thailand.

But with many western embassies still unable to post specialist narcotics police in Laos it is hard to get facts on the country’s suspected role as a haven for drug producers.

The LCDC did not respond to AFP requests for comment.

And while Laos authorities sweep up mid-ranking henchmen they do not touch “the major organised crime behind significant production and trafficking,” according to Jeremy Douglas of the UNODC.

Questions remain over how high-profile suspects could have operated beyond the law for so long.

One reason for that impunity is their aversion to publicity and violence — in contrast to their Latin American peers — a western drug enforcement official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

They live by a maxim of “Don’t bring attention to your operations. You work in silence, you work in the dark.”

 

Myanmar tours website acquires UK technology

Posted by pakin On April - 27 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

AS TOUR OPERATORS in Myanmar are eyeing to partner with foreign firms to serve their clients better, Flymya.com, the nation’s leading hotels and tours services website, has acquired Switch.cm, a London-based start-up specialising in building reservations platforms for the hotel and airline industry, for US$ 600,000.

Mike Than Tun Win, chief executive officer of Flymya.com, said in an interview that the acquisition of Switch.cm’s hotel software would allow his firm to leverage its local expertise to deploy world class technology to small and medium–sized hotels as it continues its growth as the leading over-the-air (OTA) in Myanmar and the region.

“We look forward to utilising the software to provide an added value to our hotel partners. It offers the same function as expensive hotel management software selling in the market with many local hotels cannot afford. It will be provided free to help local hotels get management software to help them sell online easily and generate more income,” he said. 

Mike said the software would help create a direct Application Programming Interface (API) architecture for Flymya’s hotel partners to deliver real-time price and availability to consumers. 

Widely used 

The software is widely used in 41 countries including the United States, South America, the United Kingdom, Australia and Asian countries. In Myanmar, it was just launched. For the initial period, the firm will be charging some service income for processing their customer payments online. 

“For hotels, we wanted to focus on regional hotel owners who might be intimidated by legacy software, especially small and medium-sized hotels. We will carry on to expand customers, based on Indonesia and Myanmar and Asean as our main focus,” he said. 

“People generally take for granted the incredibly sophisticated architecture that goes behind making a hotel reservation,” he added.

The use of advanced technology is still a new concept in small and medium-sized hotels in Myanmar. Yet, Flymya.com has planned to help them address such challenges by taking over the user-friendly and simple software which can help them a great deal with hotel reservations management. 

“Major challenges that local small and medium-sized hotels are facing depends on the fact that there is no local technical support and no up-to- date technical knowledge training since most of the hotel operation software are based in foreign countries,” he said. 

Mike assures of offering 24/7 customer support 365 days, thanks to the firm’s onground presence. He promises to support all the technical solutions and trainings to its hotel partners anywhere, anytime related to the software.

Mike said he had a chance encounter with Jeff Pan, the founder of Switch.cm, and his team in the closing minutes of the Tech in Asia conference in Singapore last year as they were on their way to the airport. Pan was an exhibitor as a start-up in the Bootstrap Alley section of the event.

“We were extremely impressed by Jeff’s background as both a hotelier and a software engineer with deep knowledge of hotel API architecture. We look forward to utilising his team’s software to provide an added value to our hotel partners,” he said.

HANOI – From July 2017, Vietnam would no longer receive preferential loans in the form of official development assistance (ODA), a finance department official said at a conference yesterday.

Instead, the country could be provided only preferential loans and gradually market-based financing, Truong Hùng Long, head of the Ministry of Finance’s Department of Debt Management and External Finance said at the conference on the ODA relending polices.

Vietnam was working with the World Bank and other organisations on the roadmap of repayment of official development assistance (ODA) to prevent “shocks” to the State budget when interest rates on existing ODA increased or repayment period was shortened, heard a conference yesterday.

Long said that concessional terms of preferential loans provided to Vietnam gradually became stricter as the country turned into a middle-income country since 2010.

Long said that interest rates on existing ODA would be increased to between 2 per cent and 3.5 per cent, from below 1 per cent per year or the repayment period should be shortened by half as the country needs to implement rapid debt repayment obligation after providing of the ODA.

Before 2010, average repayment period was around 30 years to 40 years with borrowing costs between 0.7 and 0.8 per cent per year, including a grace period. In comparison, the average repayment period was between 10 years and 20 years and borrowing cost was from 2 per cent during the 2011 to 2015 period.

The finance ministry said it was working with the World Bank, a major donor to Vietnam, and other organisations about ODA repayments to prevent negative impacts to the State budget. “The negotiations are underway,” Long said.

Repayment pressure

As negotiations for ODA repayment were underway, Long said that he could not give an exact amount of the public debts Viêt Nam had to pay by 2020.

He said that debt repayment pressure would be the heaviest in 2022 to 2025 period, so the pressure would not be huge in the next four years.

Long said that payables this year would account for around 14.7 per cent of the total budget collection, or VND150 trillion (US$6.7 billion).

Statistics from the finance ministry showed that Vietnam received US$45 billion worth of ODA between 2005 and 2020.

The finance ministry said that ODA contributed to the country’s socio-economic development and on improving the infrastructure system. However, while the credit risks were still put on the shoulder of the State budget, the management and use of ODA sometimes were inefficient.

Long said that from now to July 2017, Vietnam must take advantage of the ODA to invest in development of the infrastructure system.

In order to enhance the efficiency of the ODA management and use, Long said that the relending mechanism might be applied at localities with a better financial situation to share the public debt pressure with the State budget.

SINGAPORE – Singapore has moved quickly to sign an investment treaty with oil-rich Iran to support Singapore firms investing in an economy that is emerging after the recent lifting of global sanctions.

The treaty offers a legal framework to protect investors and promote bilateral investments.

Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran signed an Agreement on Reciprocal Promotion and Protection of Investments, also known as a bilateral investment treaty, with Iran’s Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Ali Tayyebnia in Teheran yesterday (February 29).

Singapore is the second country, after Japan, to sign a bilateral investment treaty with the Middle Eastern nation after international sanctions were lifted in mid-January.

“We are here now to deepen the economic collaboration between our two countries,” Iswaran told the media after the ceremony.

“We see significant opportunities to do so because of the size of the market in Iran and in the region, and the capabilities of the people.

“For Iranian businesses, there are interesting opportunities in Singapore and through Singapore into Southeast Asia and the larger market of Asia,” he added.

Iswaran arrived in Teheran on Sunday for a three-day visit to explore new business and investment opportunities. His trip coincides with a one-week mission by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) to the Iranian capital.

Iswaran also met Iranian Minister of Industries and Business Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh and Minister of Cooperatives, Labour and Social Welfare Ali Rabiei.

With this agreement, Singapore investments will be treated as favourably in Iran as any other investments – foreign or local. And businesses can transfer capital and returns between the two countries without obstacles.

The treaty also provides Singapore investors with the option to resolve investment disputes through international arbitration.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry said Singapore’s bilateral trade with Iran was S$6.6 billion (US$4.70 billion) in 2011, before the sanctions were imposed. It fell to S$2.6 billion in 2012, after the sanctions kicked in. Last year, trade stood at S$171.4 million, with Singapore exporting S$158 million worth of goods to Iran, while imports from Iran to Singapore amounted to S$13.4 million.

Singapore firms have shown renewed interest in the oil-rich country, which is just re-opening its doors after a prolonged period of under-investment.

A total of 51 firms from various sectors, including oil and gas, petrochemicals, logistics and information communications technology, have been in Teheran since last Friday, gaining first-hand knowledge about the business environment and investment opportunities.

This is the SBF’s fifth delegation to Iran, and the largest group that it has taken to the Middle East so far.

The delegation comprises two main groups – companies that were previously doing business in Iran and are now seeking to re-establish dealings after the lifting of the sanctions, and companies that are completely new to the market.

“Singapore companies are known for our quality, reliability and the service we deliver… but competition is greater than before and others are running very fast,” said Teo Siong Seng, SBF chairman and leader of the business mission.

Singapore businesses are facing stiff competition from South Korean and European companies, which are pursuing deals in Iran, he noted.

According to the Teheran Times, South Korea on Sunday signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran to provide 5 billion euros (US$5.44 billion) in financing for infrastructure, development and manufacturing projects in the country.

Many of these businesses tend to be bold and are willing to put in huge investments. Singapore companies, however, tend to be more careful, said Teo.

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