- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Companies that violate prohibitions on business with countries such as Iran and Sudan will face increased penalties under legislation passed by Congress yesterday and sent to the president for his signature.

Under the bill, civil fines for ignoring economic and financial sanctions imposed on countries or terrorist organizations designated by the president as security threats would go from the current $50,000 to $250,000 or twice the amount of the transaction.

Criminal penalties for willful violations of sanctions could be as much as $1 million with jail terms up to 20 years.

“Let Congress’ support of this bill serve notice to the patrons of terrorism and supporters of genocide: We will bring you to justice and choke off your financing, from Khartoum to Tehran,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who is running for president and sponsored the bill. The House passed it by voice vote yesterday. The Senate passed the legislation in June.

Meanwhile, U.S. energy companies are shrugging off pressure to end operations in Burma that critics contend help prop up the military junta and its hold over the country.

Those companies, Chevron Corp, Schlumberger Ltd., Baker Hughes Inc. and BJ Services Co., all play a role in the Asian nation’s growing position as a key energy supplier to the region.

Chevron took over a 28 percent stake in Burma Yadana and Sein gas fields when it bought Unocal. Yadana is operated by French oil company Total SA, which has said its departure could put the field in the hands of a less-responsible company.

France is drawing up sanctions that could be used against the junta in Burma, and Total would not be spared from any such penalties, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said yesterday.

The United States banned new investments in Burma by American companies in 1997 and barred imports. More recently, it has sought to target the investments and movements of the junta’s highest-ranking members, but analysts say the United States has little effect on events there.

Chevron would not comment about its work in Burma, but Schlumberger, the world’s largest oil-field services company, defended its presence.

“Schlumberger is very concerned about the developments in Burma, but views its presence as positive — particularly for the Burmese people that it employs. Wherever it operates, the company follows business practices that conform to internationally accepted standards of behavior,” Schlumberger spokesman Stephen Harris said in an e-mail.

Baker Hughes said it supplied products to customers in Burma, although it did not have an office or operations there and it was constantly reviewing its presence in nations around the globe.

Protests led by Burma’s Buddhist monks brought crowds of up to 100,000 to its largest city, Rangoon, but were halted as security forces raided monasteries and imposed curfews. Government officials said 10 persons were killed in the crackdown, although human rights groups say the figure was far higher.

In 1988, an estimated 3,000 people were killed over several months when the army stamped out a nationwide uprising.

But even as nations line up to condemn the latest violence, few expect Burma’s closest economic partners — Thailand, India and China — to risk their access to the nation’s energy resources.

Those nations are relying on natural gas and perhaps untapped oil wealth, to keep their economic growth on track.

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