SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) – Razer co-founder and director Lim Kaling is selling his one third stake in a joint venture that owns RMH Singapore Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based tobacco company which in turn owns 49 per cent of Virginia Tobacco Co Ltd (VTCL), the military-linked market leader in Myanmar’s tobacco market.
In a statement released on Tuesday (Feb 9), Mr Lim said he had been closely monitoring the situation in Myanmar and recent events there caused him “grave concern”.
“As a result, I have decided to exit my investment in Myanmar, disposing of my one-third stake in the joint venture that owns RMH Singapore Pte Ltd.
“I am therefore exploring options for the responsible disposal of this stake,” he said, adding that it is his only remaining investment in Myanmar, initiated nearly three decades ago under a very different circumstance.
Back in 1993, Mr Lim started Distinction Investments to address an economic opportunity in Myanmar as the country was opening up to the rest of the world.
“Through this venture, we had hoped to help the country spur economic growth, create jobs and raise standards of living,” he said.
Distinction Investments has three shareholders: Myanmar citizen George Yin Soon, Castlebay Investments, and Bright Seasons. Its directors are Mr Soon, who is also known as Kyaw Kyaw Htun; Mr Lim and Ong Beng Huat, brother of Singapore tycoon and hotelier, Ong Beng Seng.
Mr Lim – who is the chairman of his 100-year old family business Lim Teck Lee Pte Ltd – said he has always been a passive minority shareholder with no direct involvement in the operations of VTCL, which produces the popular Red Ruby and Premium Gold cigarette brands.
Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), a military-linked conglomerate with a significant portfolio across many Myanmar’s industries from banking, tourism, real estate, transportation to gems and metals, holds the remaining 51 per cent stake in VTCL.
Myanmar’s commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing – who led the military coup which seized control of the government from elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week – oversees MEHL. According to an Amnesty International report in Sept last year, the military chief owned 5,000 shares in MEHL in 2011.
Foreign companies that invested in Myanmar have been under pressure from human rights groups for doing business in the country.
Last Friday, Japanese beer giant Kirin – which has been under scrutiny for some time over its relations with Myanmar military-owned breweries – said it was terminating its joint-venture partnership with MEHL. It said it was “deeply concerned by the recent actions of the military in Myanmar”.