Israeli lobbyist paid $2m by Myanmar junta to defend coup, get sanctions lifted

Ari Ben-Menashe’s firm agrees to lobby the US, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Israel, Russia and other countries as well as the UN and African Union on behalf of those behind putsch

Ari Ben-Menashe. (YouTube screenshot)
Ari Ben-Menashe. (YouTube screenshot)

An Israeli-Canadian lobbyist recruited to represent the Myanmar junta internationally is set to pocket a $2 million fee, according to documents filed with the US Justice Department seen Wednesday by AFP.

Ari Ben-Menashe, who was hired by Myanmar’s junta, has downplayed the military’s coup in the country, claiming the generals will leave politics shortly.

Ben-Menashe and his Montreal-based firm Dickens and Madson signed a contract with the Myanmar military regime on March 4, more than a month after the putsch.

The firm agreed to lobby the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Russia and other countries, as well as the United Nations and African Union and other international organizations, on behalf of the Myanmar republic, a copy of the agreement says.

An armored vehicle in Yangon, Myanmar on February 14, 2021 (AFP)

“The agreement between the parties is for the payment of fees and expenses in the amount of $2,000,000.00 US to be paid by the foreign principal to the Registrant when legally permissible by controlling jurisdictions,” the document, published on the US Justice Department website, says.

Part of the firm’s remit is “to assist in explaining the real situation in the country,” while lobbying to get international sanctions lifted.

Myanmar’s generals have shown no sign of heeding calls for restraint amid escalating violence despite mounting international pressure, including targeted sanctions by Western powers.

Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli Military Intelligence official who has previously represented Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Sudan’s military rulers, told the Reuters news agency that the military junta also wants to repatriate Rohingya Muslims who fled to neighboring Bangladesh, amid attacks on the minority that UN officials have termed genocide.

Almost a million Rohingya live in sprawling camps in Bangladesh, with many having fled Myanmar after a bloody military crackdown in 2017.

Ben-Menashe said he was tasked with contacting the UAE and Saudi Arabia on repatriation.

Riot police block the road to prevent protesters from marching forward. on February 6, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar. (screenshot, AP Photo)

Myanmar has been rocked by unrest since a February 1 coup ousted civilian leader Suu Kyi from power and triggered a mass uprising opposed to the new military junta.

Close to 2,000 people have been arrested and the death toll has climbed to more than 60, as security forces attempt to quash the resistance.

The coup and brutal military crackdown have drawn widespread international condemnation, including sanctions against key military personnel.

Ben-Menashe said he was hired because the West “misunderstands” the Myanmar military.

“There’s a real push to move toward the West and the United States, as opposed to trying to get closer to the Chinese,” Ben-Menashe said. “They don’t want to be a Chinese puppet.”

He also claimed the police force, rather than the military, has been responding to popular unrest — despite photographic evidence to the contrary.

Anti-coup protesters take cover as a convoy of soldiers and policemen arrive in Mandalay, Myanmar, March 10, 2021. (AP Photo)

And he said military leaders are eager to return to give power back to a civilian government. “They want to get out of politics completely,” he said, “but it’s a process.”

Ben-Menashe served nearly a year in prison in the United States in 1989-1990 on charges of trying to sell transport aircraft to Iran, before being acquitted after a jury accepted his non-verified claim that he was following Israeli government orders.

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