August 6, 2008

Did U.S. Taxpayers pay for Burma Junta's Satellite?

A U.S. government-backed satellite company tested its products in Burma, despite longstanding U.S. sanctions against doing business with that nation’s repressive military regime, a Thai court case reveals.

The revelations grow out of one of several corruption cases under way against former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, according to the Hong Kong’s Asia Times newspaper.

Thaksin’s wife, Pojaman, was sentenced on Thursday to three years in prison for tax evasion in a separate case.

In the U.S.-Burma case, prosecutors say the former prime minister arranged for a Thai state loan to the Burmese junta of $119 million to purchase satellite services that were sold by his family’s company.

Burma, dubbed Myanmar by its ruling junta, later allegedly used some of the loan money in a deal whereby it allowed a company called iPStar to test its satellite-phone services in the nation before launching the products throughout much of Asia.

IPStar’s technology had been built by a U.S. company, Space Systems/Loral, using $190 million in government-guaranteed loans, according to Asia Times.

“Now Myanmar’s junta is likely using U.S.-funded wireless broadband technology to perpetuate its repressive policies and harassment of pro-democracy groups,” wrote Asia Times.

In an op-ed in Satellite Today, Peter J. Brown — the same reporter who wrote about the story for Asia Times — wrote: “It is hard to imagine that the Asia team at the U.S. State Department … (was) unaware that that the government of Thailand … (was) dealing aggressively upfront with the government of Burma months prior to the launch of IPStar given the sheer size of the loan … In this instance, someone either dropped the ball entirely or elected to look the other way.”

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Source:

“U.S. twist to Thaksin court case”
Asia Times, Aug. 2, 2008

“Thaksin Shinawatra’s wife convicted of tax evasion”
Telegraph (U.K.), July 31, 2008

“Satellite Broadband And Politics In Burma”
Satellite Today, June 1, 2008

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