Myanmar's military to pay Israeli-Canadian lobbyist $2m to explain 'real situation' to US following coup

·2 min read

An Israeli-Canadian lobbyist hired by Myanmar's military will be paid $2m (£1.4m) to help explain the "real situation" to the US and other countries, documents filed with the US Justice Department show.

It comes after more than 60 protesters have been killed and 1,900 people arrested since 1 February when Myanmar's generals seized power and began detaining civilian leaders including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Former arms dealer Ari Ben-Menashe and his firm, Dickens & Madson Canada, will represent Myanmar's military government in Washington, as well as lobby Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Russia, and international bodies like the United Nations, according to a consultancy agreement.

The Montreal-based firm will "assist the devising and execution of policies for the beneficial development of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, and also to assist in explaining the real situation in the country," the agreement says.

Tehran-born Mr Ben-Menashe, who previously represented Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Sudan's military rulers, told Reuters he had been tasked with convincing the US that Myanmar's generals wanted to move closer to the West and away from China.

He added that the generals wanted to resettle Rohingya Muslims who fled a 2017 military assault for which the United Nations has accused those same generals of overseeing a genocide.

His pitch has been met with widespread criticism, with John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, saying: "It is highly implausible that he could convince the United States of the narrative he's proposing."

Other documents submitted by Mr Ben-Menashe showed the agreement was reached with the junta's defence minister, General Mya Tun Oo, and that the government would pay the firm $2m.

But since Mya Tun Oo and other top generals have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department and the Canadian government, the paperwork says the payment will be made "when legally permissible".

The agreement was submitted on Monday to the Justice Department as part of compliance with the US Foreign Agents Registration Act and published online.

Meanwhile, lawyers told Reuters that Mr Ben-Menashe could be in breach of sanctions.

"To the extent that he is providing services to sanctioned parties from the United States without authorisation, that would appear to be a violation of US law," said Peter Kucik, a former senior sanctions adviser at the US Treasury.

The US Treasury Department declined to comment.

Mr Ben-Menashe said he had received legal advice that he would need licences from Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) and the Canadian government to accept the payment.

He said he would not be breaking the law by lobbying for the military government.

"There's technicalities here but we'll leave it to the lawyers and OFAC to deal with it," he said, adding his lawyers were in touch with Treasury officials.

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