Burmese Generals, Drug Lords, and the Singapore Government

On the historical links between the Singapore government and “Burmese Generals / Drug Lords.”


Most of Burma’s 50 million people struggle to feed their families on less than $1 a day.

Regional analysts say most of that revenue and money earned on the black market goes straight to the military leaders and the elite that surrounds them.

Ian Holliday, a Burma expert at the University of Hong Kong, says the generals also spend their money in Singapore.

Might one of these luxury villas belong to Senior General Than Shwe? (Image of Sentosa Cove)

“I know they’ve got some property investments. Than Shwe and his family have a luxury villa that they go [to]. I don’t know how much money they put in Singaporean bank accounts. I assume it’s quite a lot,” he said.

Source: VoA (2007)


a) Nine banks have been given provisional licences to operate in Myanmar, of which two are Singaporean — UOB and OCBC.

Source: Jakarta Post (2015)

OCBC: World’s Strongest Bank (in 2012). Source: Bloomberg

b) In early September 2009, the NGO EarthRights International (ERI) revealed that the French and American oil companies Total and Chevron were using two Singapore-based banking corporations (DBS and OCBC) to finance Burma’s Yadana energy project.

This project might have generated huge dividends for the Burmese state and its military associates (around US$5 billion in one decade according to ERI’s report), as well as for Singapore. Singapore’s official bilateral trade with Burma hit US$1.86 billion during the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

Source: Soldiers and Diplomacy in Burma (NUS Press)

c) “[Burma’s] military elite are hiding billions of dollars of the people’s revenue in Singapore while the country needlessly suffers under the lowest social spending in Asia,” said ERI’s Matthew Smith, the report’s main author.

Source: The Independent

d) Jelson Garcia, Asia Program Manager with the Banking Information Center (BIC), said World Bank, ADB and International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials informed him last year that Burma’s government held up to $11 billion in several Singaporean bank accounts.

Source: The Irrawaddy


Stephen Law is the son of Burma’s notorious drug lord Lo Hsing Han, who, at one point, was sentenced to death in Burma for drug trafficking.

Lo Hsing Han or Law Sit Han (1935 – 2013): Burmese drug trafficker and major business tycoon.

a) Lo Hsing Han’s Asia World (managed by son Stephen Law) and the Burmese junta are partners in Singapore’s luxury Traders Hotel. The hotel’s November 1996 opening ceremony was attended by the wanted guy, Lo Hsing Han himself.

According to a high-level US government official familiar with the situation, Law’s wife Cecilia Ng operates an underground banking system, and “is a contact for people in Burma to get their drug money into Singapore, because she has a connection to the government.”

Source: John Harding, SBS: Singapore Sling, and Covert Action Quarterly

b) “If the Singapore Government truly feels drug abuse is a scourge on society, it would not just want to catch and hang these small-time peddlers,” Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan said, pointing out the Singapore government’s hypocrisy.

Chee Soon Juan, SDP

“You would want to go for the big fish and go to what the source is. Press the Government on what it’s doing in Burma to stop this production of opium and heroin.”

Source: Singapore’s Hand in Golden Triangle

c) Is it so difficult to prosecute a drug lord? There is a conspiracy of intellects and governments that feed the public with bullshit that corruptions are extremely difficult to prosecute and to prove.

Money Trail | Image from loans.org

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is easy to steal $1 to $2, but to embezzle millions you would leave trails of accountants, private bankers, large amount of bank accounts transactions, etc. Those are the easiest things to track down.

Source: Veritas

d) Remember, you are dealing with a country like Singapore where the brutal military junta leaders of Burma are not only given red carpet welcomes when they visit Singapore, while they brutalize and torture their citizens, orchids in Singapore were even named after them!

thein sein
Singapore Botanic Gardens held an “Orchid Naming Ceremony” for Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, a former general, in 2009

There is a lot of dirty money to be made with Burmese drug money connections. Burmese drug lords need lawyers too. Lee Kuan Yew does business with Burma. Many of them are drug lords.

Contracts for drug money transactions have to be drafted, banking agreements have to be entered into and complicated money laundering transactions have to be worked out.

Source: Singapore Dissident (2011)

e) “The Singapore government knows it’s having dinner with the devil, and sharing a very short spoon,” says former solicitor-general Francis Seow.

Francis Seow, former solicitor-general of SG

“And it is a terrible double standard. Drug moneys are being laundered apparently by the same drug lords who supply the heroin for which small-time drug dealers are hanged. We are reaping profits as Burma’s biggest investor, but we’re being paid with blood money.”

Source: The Nation


a) The close political, economic, and military relationship between the two countries facilitates the weaving of millions of narco-dollars into the legitimate world economy.

. . .The Burmese government has kept computers and communication technology away from students and others in opposition to the regime. Yet Singapore has made the best computer technology available to the ruling elite and their business partners [through Singapore Telecom (SingTel)].

Singaporean companies have also helped suppress dissent in Burma by supplying the military with arms to use against its own people.

Source: Covert Action Quarterly

b) A former US assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Robert Gelbard, has said half of Singapore’s investment in Burma has been “tied to the family of narco-trafficker Lo Hsing Han.”

Medical trips to SG. Image of SGH by Thomson Adsett.

Dissident groups say the trade-off for Tay Za’s government business contracts in Burma is to fund junta leaders’ medical trips to Singapore.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

Singapore has received criticism for its large investment in the military dictatorship of Burma. In 1995, the government of then PM Goh Chok Tong pursued a diplomatic strategy of engaging Burma while securing investment deals for its Soverign Wealth Funds (SWFs), including the GIC’s investment in the Myanmar Fund (Financial Times 1995). The state used its SWFs as a diplomatic tool to open channels into Burma.

Source: Sovereign Wealth Funds (by Christopher Balding)


  • Reader Tip: Take note of the two dates in the paragraphs below.

1) Burma’s Prime Minister Soe Win is being treated at a hospital in Singapore, an official from the Burmese embassy in the city-state said. The official would not give details of Soe Win’s illness, saying only that it was a “serious health matter.”

Source: BBC (21 March 2007)


2) As Sim Tee Hua lay on life support in a Singapore hospital, seven of his relatives knelt crying on the floor before the doctors, begging them not to remove his organs and give him a chance for a miracle recovery.

“The hospital staff were running as they wheeled him out of the back door of the room,” said Sim Chew Hiah, one of his sisters. “They were behaving like robbers.”

The harvesting surgeons had waited for 24 hours, but although his family still clung to hopes that he could recover, Singaporean law assumes all citizens except Muslims are willing organ donors unless they have explicitly opted out.

Source: Telegraph (2 March 2007)


Lee Kuan Yew (Photo: AFP/Files/Roslan Rahman)

From an article on CNN:

This time, the WikiLeaks cable shows Minister Mentor [Lee Kuan Yew] describing the Myanmar (or Burma) leaders as “stupid” and “dense.” He was even quoted as saying that dealing with the regime is like “talking to dead people.”

Source: Mr. Brown / CNN (2010)


As netizens say:

“This is what we call LEEgalised corruption.”


This blog post takes a look at LKY’s family ties to opium trade.

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