NUG requests cooperation from Thai oil and gas company, warns of potential legal action

The publicly mandated National Unity Government (NUG) has requested financial data and a redirection of payments from the Thai company operating Myanmar’s largest natural gas production venture, and may sue if the demand goes unanswered, the NUG claimed on Monday.

PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP)—a subsidiary of the Thai state-owned PTT Public Company Limited, formerly the Petroleum Authority of Thailand—is partnered with the Myanmar military-controlled Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) in a joint venture operating in the Yadana gas fields in the Andaman Sea.  

According to NUG minister of finance and planning Tin Tun Naing, the NUG sent a request letter in accordance with the contract between PTTEP and MOGE. The letter demands that the Thai company report all  financial and operational activity to the NUG, suspend future dividend payments to the military regime, and make the dividends payable to an NUG-designated account.

The decision to file the lawsuit will depend on how PTTEP responds, the minister added. 

During a Monday press conference, the minister also stated that the NUG was willing to wait 30 days for PTTEP to respond, and that they had already prepared to file the suit in Singapore in case the company fails to cooperate.

“We will submit the case to the Singapore International Arbitration Center according to the commitments and provisions of the contract if their response does not meet our expectations,” he said.

The NUG has spoken with two international donor organisations about bankrolling the suit—expected to cost $500,000—but is prepared to use its own funds if necessary, according to the minister. 

The NUG claims a public mandate as the legitimate government of Myanmar based on the results of the 2020 general election. 

Due to the NUG’s mandate, international oil and gas companies are obligated to request permission from the NUG for the exchange and transfer of shares in fossil fuel production ventures, and to report on their finances and operations to the NUG on a regular basis, Tin Tun Naing said. 

Moreover, the minister added, fossil fuel production companies are obligated to comply with MOGE permits that had been transferred to the NUG minister of energy and electricity Maw Tun Aung, but PTTEP had instead cooperated with military in its operations with MOGE and made all its payments to the junta.

A protest against the PTT in Letpadaung, Sagaing Region in early March 2023 (CJ)

The NUG hoped for PTTEP’s cooperation as a responsible business that respects human rights, the minister said.

NUG officials said they would only take the extraordinary step of filing a lawsuit in order to impede the flow of foreign funds to the junta, and without any intent to harm the interests of the Thai company. Moreover, the NUG stated, the action would not affect electricity provision in Thailand.

Myanmar Now contacted PTTEP for comment on the NUG’s letter, but has yet to receive a response.

MOGE, the military-controlled company partnered with PTT in the Yadana gas fields operation, is the single largest source of foreign revenue for Myanmar’s military junta.

Several international fossil fuel companies have withdrawn from Myanmar citing concerns about violence or human rights abuses since the 2021 coup. 

TotalEnergies, a French oil and gas company, and Chevron, an American company, were the largest investors in MOGE and PTT’s Yadana offshore gas field venture before announcing their exits from Myanmar. PTT took over as operator of the venture after TotalEnergies withdrew. 

One of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, the Government Pension Fund of Norway, divested from PTT in December 2022, citing ethical reasons related to PTT’s partnerships with Myanmar junta-controlled companies.

The PTT Oil & Retail subsidiary (PTTOR) also announced in December 2022 that it was suspending a petroleum products transport and storage venture in Myanmar due to concerns about violence in the country.

PTTEP not only remains a stakeholder in Myanmar’s fossil fuel production venture, but also profits from its shares in pipelines used to transport natural gas to Thailand and other neighbouring countries. Activists continue to exert pressure on PTT and its subsidiaries to stop enabling the military regime’s abuses by partnering with and investing in Myanmar entities.

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