Transocean Drilled in Burmese Waters Linked to Drug Lord

Chiang Mai – Swiss-American firm Transocean, presently embroiled in the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, did exploratory drilling last autumn in Burmese waters owned by a partnership between a Chinese state-run energy company and a firm owned by Stephen Law, a junta crony alleged by the US to be a major drug-money launderer, according to corporate filings with the US stock market regulator.

Stephen Law, (a.k.a. Tun Myint Naing), his Singaporean wife and his “narco warlord” father are on the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) blacklist, officially called the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. All three are also on a similar European travel ban and sanctions lists.

The SDN blacklist targets the Burmese junta’s senior leadership, its cronies and the financial networks that continue to support the military dictatorship. The US Treasury website states that when an individual, firm or other entity is added to the sanctions list “any assets the designees may have subject to US jurisdiction are frozen, and all financial and commercial transactions by any US person with the designated companies and individuals are prohibited”.

Transocean International’s corporate 8-K filing to the US Securities and Exchance Commission on November 2 last year shows that Chinese state-run energy company CNOOC hired Transocean’s semi-submersible Actinia, a Panamanian registered drilling rig, to operate in Burma from last October to December. An 8-K form is the “current report” companies must file with the US market regulator to announce major events that shareholders should know about. The 82-metre-long, 78-metre-wide rig was hired at a daily rate of US$206,000. Transocean could not be reached for comment.

According to the CNOOC website, all of the firm’s stakes in Burma’s gas industry are held in partnership with China Focus Development (formerly known as Golden Aaron) and China Global Construction, with CNOOC as the operator. China Focus Development is a privately owned Singapore-registered firm whose sole shareholders are Stephen Law and his wife Ng Sor Hong (a.k.a. Cynthia Ng). The US and EU sanctions list show Ng Sor Hong to be chief executive of the firm, which is also among more than a dozen companies controlled by Law on the OFAC blacklist of banned Burma-related entities.

Industry journal International Oil Daily reported last February that the CNOOC-China Focus Development partnership held onshore blocks C-1, C-2 and M and offshore blocks A-4, M-2 and M-10. It also said CNOOC’s attempt in 2008 to swap its stake in two of its blocks with the Thai national oil firm PTEEP was vetoed by the Burmese regime.

Law’s Sino-Burmese father Lao Sit Han (a.k.a. Lo Hsing Han) is believed by US drug-trafficking analysts to have controlled Southeast Asia’s best-armed narcotics militias during the 1970’s.

According to the US Treasury in February, 2008: “In addition to their support for the Burmese regime, Steven Law and Lo Hsing Han have a history of involvement in illicit activities.”

“Lo Hsing Han, known as the ‘Godfather of Heroin’, has been one of the world’s key heroin traffickers dating back to the early 1970s. Steven Law joined his father’s drug empire in the 1990s and has since become one of the wealthiest individuals in Burma,” the Treasury statement said.

Calls for a US Government Investigation

In an interview with Mizzima, Wong Aung of the Shwe Gas movement called on the US government to immediately probe the links between Transocean and Stephen Law.

“Transocean’s drilling for Stephen Law’s natural gas consortium appears to be a serious breach of American sanctions on Burma,” he said. “The US government must investigate Transocean’s Burmese operations as soon as possible and send a clear message that it is not acceptable for multinational firms such as Transocean to do business with Burma’s most notorious narco-oligarch.”

Last month Transocean was involved in what has been described as one of the worst environmental disasters in US history. On April 20, 2010, Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico while it was drilling under contract for oil giant BP. The explosion killed 11 workers.

Early this month at a special US congressional hearing convened to investigate the disaster, senior executives from BP, Transocean and contractor Halliburton all testified the other firms were responsible for the blast and subsequent unprecedented oil spill.

Following the hearing, a furious US President Barack Obama chided the executives for their refusal to accept responsibility saying, “I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle”. He added that the millionaire executives were “falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else. The American people could not have been impressed with that display and I certainly wasn’t”.