Kirin investigates if donations went to Myanmar's forces

TOKYO — Japanese beer company Kirin is investigating whether donations intended for charity instead went to Myanmar's military, which is accused of brutal attacks against Rohingya Muslims.

Amnesty International has urged Japanese authorities to look into donations Kirin's subsidiary Myanmar Brewery made in September and October.

A televised ceremony for a $6,000 donation showed the commander of Myanmar's military.

Tokyo-based Kirin Holdings Co. acknowledged Friday it needs to better monitor its donations and said it had halted them in Myanmar until the investigation is finished. It was unclear how long that will take.

Seema Joshi, head of business and human rights at Amnesty International, said Japan has a responsibility to ensure companies don't contribute to rights abuses.

"Not only is there a risk that these donations actually funded the operations of military units involved in crimes against humanity, but the choice to appear in a donation ceremony with Myanmar's top military leaders also sends a worrying message that Myanmar Brewery endorsed the military's actions against the Rohingya population," she said.

Kirin said it believes other donations likely didn't go to the military, with $2,000 worth of rice and cooking oil going directly to victims of violence in western Rakhine state and $22,500 in October going to civilian volunteers.

But the company acknowledged it did not really know how the money was used.

Myanmar security forces are accused of rape, killing and torture of minority Rohingya, 700,000 of whom have fled to Bangladesh following counterinsurgency operations in Rakhine state.

Amnesty International has been in contact with Kirin since March over the donations. In correspondence released by the watchdog, which Kirin also confirmed, the beer company initially defended its donations as humanitarian.

"The decision to participate in the donation round was based on the nature of the request and the trust we have in our business partner's adherence to the explicit terms of our joint venture agreement, which prohibit any use of Myanmar Brewery's funds for military purposes under any circumstances," Kirin President and Chief Executive Yoshinori Isozaki said in a letter to Joshi, dated April 27.

Amnesty noted that the donations were made at the height of the campaign against the Rohingya, which the U.N. and the U.S. have described as "ethnic cleansing."

Kirin acquired a 55 percent stake in Myanmar Brewery in 2015 for $560 million from Fraser and Neave, based in Singapore.

Kirin, which also makes non-alcoholic beverages such as juices and bottled teas, has been expanding its business in Southeast Asia as well as Brazil and China. It owns a stake in San Miguel in the Philippines.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Her work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/yuri%20kageyama

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