SINGAPORE: Singapore gaming company Razer’s co-founder and director Lim Kaling said on Tuesday (Feb 9) that he will exit his investment in a tobacco firm in Myanmar after the military coup there caused him “grave concern”.
In a statement issued to the media, Mr Lim said he is disposing of his one-third stake in a joint venture that owns RMH Singapore, which in turn owns 49 per cent of Myanmar’s cigarette maker Virginia Tobacco Company.
The businessman added that he has always been “a passive minority shareholder with no direct involvement” in the operations of Virginia Tobacco.
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Mr Lim also noted that this investment in Myanmar – his “only remaining” exposure in the country – was started nearly three decades ago under very different circumstances.
“The joint venture I started with a friend in 1993 was 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,” the statement said.
But after closely monitoring the situation in Myanmar and with recent events there causing him “grave concern”, he has decided to exit his investment and is “exploring options for the responsible disposal” of his stake in RMH.
Mr Lim’s statement did not provide further details on what these options are or a timeline.
Virginia Tobacco Company is a leading cigarette producer in Myanmar. The remaining 51 per cent of the company is owned by Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), one of the two conglomerates run by Myanmar’s military, according to a 2019 United Nations (UN) report.
Apart from tobacco, MEHL holds a significant portfolio with interests in many other industries such as mining, tourism and banking. It is owned and influenced by senior military leaders including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, according to the UN report.
A separate report by Amnesty International published in September 2020 also found that MEHL’s shareholders “include military units and high-ranking military officers directly implicated in crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations”.
Foreign firms with investments in Myanmar have come under increased scrutiny since the coup on Feb 1.
For instance, Japanese beer giant Kirin said last week that it is pulling out of a partnership with MEHL.
Mr Lim’s statement on Tuesday comes on the back of a petition made by activist group Justice for Myanmar on Feb 7, which had urged Razer to remove the businessman from its board if he did not end his business ties with the Myanmar military.
The petition, as of Tuesday afternoon, has gained 851 signatories.
Mr Lim made no reference to the petition in his statement, but the activist group claimed a victory.
“Thank you to all who signed the petition. Lim Kaling heard your voice and acted,” the group said on its Facebook page.