Wai Moe, The Irrawaddy, 24 Oct 2007

Money transfers between Burma and Singapore through the United Overseas Bank have been cancelled indefinitely and non-bank money transfers via agents from Thailand to Burma have been discontinued temporarily, said business sources.

A source close to Burmese businessmen in Singapore told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that some trading companies transferring money from Burma to Singapore in the past week have not received the remittance and no reason was disclosed for the delay.

“It is unusual because previously the money transfer process was about two working days. Now it is more than a week,” he said.

He also said that he did not know whether the transfer delay was related to the US sanctions blocking certain transactions related to Burma.

After the junta’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters and monks, the US imposed further sanctions against the Burmese military government on September 27 and October 19—including freezing the bank accounts of 25 military officials and 12 close associates of the junta.

A UOB agent in Rangoon refused to comment when the Irrawaddy enquired about the cessation of money transfers.

According to a report by the Burma Campaign UK, 10 Singapore firms are on its “Dirty List” of companies for their business with the Burmese junta, including the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS), the United Overseas Bank (UOB), the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC), and conglomerate Keppel Corp.

Business sources said that among those Singaporean banks, UOB is one of the main conduits for money transfers between Burma and Singapore. It is also connected to the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank, said the sources.

Meanwhile, private agents, or “handies,” who administer non-bank money transfers from Thailand to Burma, have ceased operations indefinitely as of last week, said sources. An agent in Bangkok told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that they had stopped work because of the uncertain situation in Burma. The handies also halted money transfers to Burma temporarily during the mass protests in Burma in September.

But non-bank money transfers to Burma from other Asean countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia are still running as usual, said sources in the two countries.

Analysts said remittances to Burma from overseas migrant workers have dropped since the crackdown on street protesters. The reason for the drop is not the insensitivity of the migrant workers, but worries that the military regime might suddenly cancel currency notes once again.

Oversea Burmese workers have been using these handies to send money to their families for many years. Business agents, who want foreign currency, buy Burmese migrant workers’ money and their agents in Burma deliver the money to the workers’ families. This kind of cash transfer is not official and both parties operate on a basis of trust. “No one needs to pay tax this way,” said an agent.

Tens of thousands of Burmese working in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore use informal financial “fences” to remit money home.