Russia-Linked Firm Hits Myanmar Gold

Myanmar's military junta has awarded a potentially lucrative gold exploration contract to a little-known company with links to Russia, an official newspaper in the Southeast Asian country reported Saturday.

Russia's ambassador attended the signing of the agreement between the Mining Ministry and Victorious Glory International in the country's new capital, Naypyitaw, on Friday, the New Light of Myanmar said.

Victorious Glory will explore for gold and associated minerals along a stretch of the Uru River between the Homalin and Phakant regions of the country, which is rich in precious metals and stones.

The deal shows progress in business links between the ruling junta and Moscow.

Victorious Glory chairman Pavel Krivoshei signed the deal with the Mining Ministry's Geological Survey and Mineral Exploration Department in a ceremony also attended by Brigadier General Ohn Myint, the Mining Minister, and Russian Ambassador Mikhail Mgeladze, the New Light of Myanmar reported.

Krivoshei, a professional mining engineer, also heads Singapore-registered Chandwin Projects Pte, which holds an 80 percent share in Victorious Glory International. Chandwin, which was registered in March 2007, said in a statement posted on its web site that Krivoshei "was specially selected by [the] Russian government to handle any joint-venture contracts in Southeast Asia in the mining business."

Krivoshei did not immediately respond to an e-mail asking for his comments on Sunday. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry could not confirm Krivoshei's special relationship with the government on Sunday afternoon.

Little is known about the company that owns Chandwin, except its name -- Benton International. On its web site, Chandwin describes Benton as a Russian and Swiss company.

Another company that had dealings with Benton, West Siberian Resources, in 2001 said Benton had "ties to established reputable Russian business circles." Benton bought a small stake in West Siberian Resources at the time.

In addition to its interest in doing business in Myanmar, Benton International has assets in Russian gold mining, through its stake in Central Asia Gold, and oil production, through West Siberian Resources. Both companies are registered in Sweden.

Central Asia Gold answered neither a telephone call nor an e-mail seeking contact information for Benton International on Sunday. A call to the Moscow office of West Siberian Resources also went unanswered.

Benton International's investment in Myanmar gold exploration will come to a country that relies on export of precious stones such as sapphires, jade and pearls as a key source of income.

Western nations, led by the United States, imposed tough measures against the junta after it crushed pro-democracy rallies in September, but Russia, China and Myanmar's neighbors have opposed sanctions as they compete for the country's natural gas, timber and mineral resources.