Senior officials implicated in Myanmar jade probe: official

Hpakant jade mining area in Kachin State, northern Myanmar. Photo: Mizzima

Hpakant jade mining area in Kachin State, northern Myanmar. Photo: Mizzima

Two senior Myanmar officials were purged from their posts this week after an investigation over corruption in the country's multi-billion-dollar jade mining industry, authorities said Friday. 

The heads of Myanmar's customs and trade departments were stripped of their positions and accused of illegally importing heavy machinery used to dig for jade in northern Kachin state, said Zaw Htay, director general of the president's office. 

It was a rare government admission that officials were involved in corrupt practices in the shadowy and vastly lucrative jade industry, which feeds huge demand for the precious stone in neighbouring China.

Public outcry has intensified in recent months as ever-larger diggers claw huge swathes of the landscape in Kachin's Hpakant mining area, which has seen a string of deadly landslides.

"These two officials were involved in the import of machinery to dig for jade in Hpakant and the president's office has taken action against them," Zaw Htay said, adding that there was no indication that criminal proceedings would be taken against them.

He said other officials also accused of wrongdoing in the inquiry worked for the home affairs, commerce, finance and mining ministries and it would be up to their respective departments to decide how to deal with them.

The government inquiry into the jade industry began in December as a series of landslides in Hpakant left scores of miners dead and stoked public alarm over the notoriously opaque industry.

Local activists accuse mining firms of ramping up extraction ahead of Myanmar's delicate transition to a government led by Aung San Suu Kyi's party.

Advocacy group Global Witness has said jade mining in Myanmar could be "the biggest natural resource heist in modern history", with those raking in profits including sanctioned cronies, drug lords and military figures from the former junta regime.

Last year it estimated the value of jade produced in 2014 was around $31 billion -- far exceeding the $3.4 billion sold at Myanmar's gem emporium that year, the country's only official market for international sales of the precious stone.

The state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper in February reported that Myanmar officially earned $567 million from jade exports in the nine months to December 2015, according to the ministry of commerce.


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