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Australian embassy spends $750,000 at luxury hotel linked to Myanmar’s military junta

Since last year’s military coup in Myanmar, an Australian embassy has spent more than $750,000 at a hotel in Yangon with links to the country’s junta, FOI documents show.

Activists say Australian taxpayer dollars should not be spent at the hotel, which is built on land owned and leased by the country’s military. 

In February 2021, Myanmar’s army overthrew the democratically elected government, citing election fraud, and has since violently repressed protests against the regime.

More than 2,000 people have been killed and more than 14,000 arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) released invoices under Freedom of Information disclosures to activist group Justice for Myanmar.

The entries include payments for hotel rooms and serviced apartments, in some cases costing taxpayers more than $60,000 for six months of luxury accommodation with a lake view.

One receipt among the documents shows $46 was spent on a chocolate cream cake. The ABC understands this was a personal expense not borne by the government. 

The five-star Lotte Hotel in Yangon is built on land owned by the military’s Quartermaster-General’s Office, which has been sanctioned by the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.

In imposing its sanction, the UK said the Quartermaster-General’s Office “plays a crucial role in procuring equipment for the Myanmar Armed Forces and is responsible for overseeing a campaign of violence and human rights violations across Myanmar”.

Lotte investors pay $US1.87 million ($2.71 million) annually in rent, which goes to the Ministry of Defence, according to Myanmar Investment Commission records.

“It is appalling that Australia is spending taxpayer’s money at the military-linked Lotte Hotel, ignoring the recommendations of the UN Fact-Finding Mission to end business with the Myanmar military,” Justice for Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung said.

“Lotte Hotel finances the Myanmar Army, paying rent to the Quartermaster-General’s Office, which buys the military’s bullets and bombs used in its indiscriminate attacks against the people of Myanmar. The Australian embassy must have known this.”

Chris Sidoti — a human rights law expert and UN specialist, who was part of the fact-finding mission to Myanmar — said the embassy’s expenditures go against the advice to financially isolate the military.

“Ultimately, the money does flow back to the military. And our recommendations were very specific that we need to cut the cash flow,” he said.

“We specifically identified land arrangements where the military somehow acquired land — often by forcibly taking it from the original owners — and then, with foreign investors, built hotels or shopping centres or ports on this land and attained income from it through rents. And this is precisely the situation here.”

Greens Senator Janet Rice — who has raised the issue of Commonwealth funds flowing to the military at Senate Estimates — said the FOI revelations were “shocking”.

“It is just shocking and extraordinary and completely unforgivable.

“It is absolutely urgent that the new Australian government cuts its ties completely and utterly with any business arrangement that is resulting in money feeding the junta.”

DFAT says staff need secure accommodation

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the ABC that it accommodates embassy staff in Yangon in “a small number of apartment complexes and houses assessed as being suitably secure”.

“There are currently limited secure accommodation options available beyond these facilities. Accommodation options are kept under constant review.

“The Australian government’s operations in Myanmar do not directly fund the Myanmar military.”

Mr Sidoti said the military’s control of the economy was once so extensive that it was difficult to find businesses that did not have army involvement, but that was no longer the case.

“The economy has diversified a lot in the intervening 20 years, and it is certainly now possible to stay in hotels that don’t have any military links at all,” he said.

Activists have long called for a boycott of the Lotte Hotel and other businesses profiting the army, also called the Tatmadaw.

Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) — the civilian government appointed by elected parliamentarians after the coup — recently criticised the Hong Kong government for planning a large event at the hotel, calling it “reprehensible”. 

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