Myanmar orders businesses to repay 'embezzled' cash
Myanmar has ordered state loans totalling tens of millions of dollars to be clawed back from private businesses, in a rare public move to tackle graft in one of the world's most corrupt nations.
The order comes after the auditor general found dozens of cases of "misuse and dishonest actions" involving 15 ministries that resulted in nearly $65 million in loans leaving government coffers over the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Around $20 million has been repaid, but $45 million was still owed by "private businessmen" loaned the cash by the ministries, the financial watchdog said in a report to parliament submitted earlier this month and seen by AFP Tuesday.
Scores of businessmen have until March next year to refund the embezzled money or face further legal action.
"If the loans cannot be settled within this period, there will be fines and lawsuit will be made," the report said.
In addition $150,000 is owed by staff at the ministries involved.
The money embezzled "would be refunded in a short time by the respective ministries", according to remarks from the president's office attached to the report.
The nominally civilian government of President Thein Sein has pledged to clean up the country as part of reforms that promise greater democracy and measures to establish the rule of law after decades of corrupt military rule.
The auditor's probe indicates a willingness to investigate government departments, long used to operating without scrutiny over financial matters.
Under decades of military rule experts say the former junta stole huge sums of state cash and doled out preferential treatment to "crony" businessmen linked to the regime.
In the run-up to elections which brought Thein Sein's government to power, the junta launched a major round of privatisation which critics say handed new chunks of the nation's economy to the cronies.
Myanmar, which Transparency International last year ranked as the world's third most corrupt country, retains a deep-rooted culture of graft among officials and the military who operated with impunity under the junta.
The chief editor and publisher of a prominent weekly newspaper have been charged with defamation for reporting a separate graft probe into the mining ministry -- which is not mentioned in the auditor's investigation.
The case is ongoing.
On a historic visit to Myanmar on Monday US President Barack Obama praised democratic reforms sweeping the nation but warned that graft could undermine efforts to lift the population out of poverty.
"This cycle of economic growth can only be created if corruption is left behind," he said, speaking as the first sitting US leader to visit the once-pariah nation.
"For investment to lead to opportunity, reform must promote budgets that are transparent," he said, adding US businesses expected to flock to Myanmar's newly opened markets would have to meet "high standards" of transparency.