Swift runs into political storm over Burmese connections

Swift runs into political storm over Burmese connections

Interbank messaging co-operative Swift has been named and shamed by Burmese human rights and other campaigning groups for extending network access to banks controlled by the country's brutal military junta.

The bank-owned Belgian cooperative features in the latest version of a database of companies defying US sanctions to trade with Burma, which was compiled by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

Economic sanctions were imposed on Burma last year due to the country's poor human rights record and the military's refusal to hand over power to an elected government.

The ICFTU says Swift has allowed four Burmese government-owned banks to join its network, allowing the country's military dictatorship to evade the economic sanctions imposed on it by the US last year which excludes, amongst other things, financial transactions to and from Burma in US dollars.

Furthermore, The Burma Campaign UK, which campaigns for the restoration of human rights and democracy in the country, has accused Swift of setting up Burmese bank accounts that allow financial firms in the country to conduct international transactions in euros and other currencies.

In a statement, Mark Farmaner, media and campaigns officer for Burma Campaign UK, says: "We're shocked that such an important financial institution is doing secret deals with one of the most brutal regimes in the world...Those sanctions are designed to cut off finance to this oppressive government but Swift are helping to undermine this."

Swift maintains it is an apolitical and user-owned organisation and that all members have to meet identical and objective criteria.

A spokesperson told Finextra that other financial firms on the network could choose not to do business with the Burmese banks and that Swift had met with the ICFTU to put forward its case.

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