An Israeli-Canadian lobbyist hired by Myanmar’s ruling junta to promote its interests in the United States and other countries has ceased his work because sanctions are preventing him from getting paid.
Ari Ben-Menashe, who was recently investigated by the RCMP over his work in Sudan, was retained this year to “explain” to the Americans and others why the military carried out a coup against Myanmar’s democratically elected government in February.
Mr. Ben-Menashe, a 69-year-old former Israeli intelligence official, described this as “a pause” rather than an exit from the contract.
Western countries including Canada, the United States and Britain expanded their sanctions against Myanmar in the wake of the February coup, building on measures put in place more than a decade ago and barring dealings with members of the military junta. Those named include junta-appointed Defence Minister General Mya Tun Oo, who signed the contract with Mr. Ben-Menashe.
The Montreal-based lobbyist said he’s asking the U.S. government for an exemption from sanctions, via the Office of Foreign Assets Control in Washington, and then will follow this up with a similar request of Canada. “We want a licence from OFAC and then we will ask the Canadian government for a licence.”
Mr. Ben-Menashe said dual approvals are needed before he can get paid by Myanmar “because it’s an American lobbying deal but we ... are based in Canada and there are sanctions from Canada as well.”
Canada’s foreign affairs minister can issue permits to Canadians to carry out transactions otherwise prohibited by sanctions.
Mr. Ben-Menashe and his Montreal-based firm Dickens & Madson (Canada) Inc. were retained in March by the junta to lobby the United States and other foreign governments “to assist in explaining the real situation in the country” after the coup. Myanmar’s generals seized power three months after an election in which a military-allied party was overwhelmingly defeated by Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy.
He said China is an important factor for the future of Myanmar. China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner and Beijing had worked to build close ties with Ms. Suu Kyi, who was deposed in the coup and remains detained.
The lobbyist said Ms. Suu Kyi “wanted to sign an alliance with the Chinese and the generals don’t want this.”
Under the $2-million contract, Mr. Ben-Menashe and his firm had been hired to “lobby the executive and/or legislative branches of the United States, Saudi Arabia, UAE [the United Arab Emirates], Israel, the Russian Federation … as well as the United Nations, African Union and international organizations and NGOs on behalf of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”
Mr. Ben-Menashe has repeatedly courted controversy during his long career as a private businessman. He was jailed in the U.S. in 1989 for attempting to sell military aircraft to Iran, but later released because a judge accepted his defence that he had been acting on the instructions of the Israeli government.
He also has a history of working with Myanmar’s generals. The Globe and Mail reported in 2003 that Mr. Ben-Menashe had attempted to lobby the Canadian government on behalf of the previous junta that ruled the county until 2015. That year, a new semi-democratic constitution took effect and the country’s first free elections were held. Mr. Ben-Menashe’s more recent clients have included Robert Mugabe’s former regime in Zimbabwe, renegade Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, and the newly installed military government in Sudan.
In 2019, the federal government asked the RCMP to investigate whether Mr. Ben-Menashe’s work in Sudan had violated Canadian sanctions, which prohibit the sale of any kind of weapons to the country. The UN also launched a separate investigation into whether the deployment of 1,000 Sudanese troops – sent to Libya to aid Gen. Haftar’s campaign to capture the capital city of Tripoli – was connected to a US$6-million payment Mr. Ben-Menashe received from Sudan.
Mr. Ben-Menashe told The Globe in March that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing by both the RCMP and the UN investigation.
In his 2020 filings under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, Mr. Ben-Menashe named the ruling military council in Sudan, the government of Kyrgyzstan, and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua among the current clients of Dickens & Madson.
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