Myanmar junta benefited from gas groups' offshore payment set-up - Le Monde

PARIS, May 4 (Reuters) - An offshore scheme in Bermuda used by French energy group Total TOTF.PA and its partners in a Myanmar gas project maximised revenues for a company closely tied to the country's military leaders, at the expense of taxpayers in Myanmar, France's Le Monde newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Le Monde cited internal documents it has had access to. Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, or MOGE, an agency within the energy ministry and is one of the shareholders in the pipeline firm domiciled in Bermuda.

MOGE does not publish its accounts or website and for years, along with other state-owned enterprises, has held revenues in opaque "other accounts" whose management and beneficiaries are not known. Human rights groups and United Nations investigators say it has deep ties to the military's business empire.

Total, which published the answers it had sent to Le Monde newspaper, confirmed the existence of the Bermuda holding company, set up in 1994, and which is listed as such in its accounts.

It said it no longer uses set-ups in countries considered to be tax havens but was unable to shift the headquarters of the pipeline company as it did not control it alone.

Total also denied that profits at the pipeline company, known as Moattama Gas Transportation Company (MGTC) and in which it is a shareholder along with MOGE, were not unusually high, as alleged by Le Monde.

According to Le Monde, the offshore scheme involved MGTC, which is domiciled in Bermuda and which operates the pipeline bringing gas from Myanmar's Yadana field to Thailand. Its shareholders are Total, alongside Thailand's PTTEP, MOGE and Chevron CVX.N of the United States.

MGTC shareholders benefited as dividends parked in Bermuda were not subject to Myanmar taxes, depriving state coffers of some of those revenues, Le Monde said.

Total, by virtue of its partnership with MOGE, already faced accusations of doing business with military rulers. The use of the offshore entity though has the potential to make any transactions less transparent, and subject to less tax.

Asked about Le Monde's article, Chevron said the company and its affiliates complied with all applicable laws and contractual requirements.

U.S. senators have been urging the Biden administration to impose more sanctions on the military junta in Myanmar that took power in a coup in February, including by choking revenues to MOGE, also directly a shareholder in the Yadana gas field.

Total said in early April it had so far not paid any of the $4 million in monthly taxes it usually pays to the Myanmar government since the coup "for the simple reason that the banking system no longer functions."

Reporting by Sarah White and Benjamin Mallet; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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