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Jnl. of Commerce, Steven Law
The Journal of Commerce
November 7, 1996
Human Rights Groups put Wine Exporter on the Spot
Free Burma Coalition calls for a boycott
California's Wente Vineyards is being attacked for its links to a Burmese
businessman, an alleged drug dealer.
By Peter Tirschwell
Journal of Commerce Staff
San Francisco - Wente Vineyards, one of California's biggest wine
exporters, is being targeted by human rights groups for its ties to a
Burmese businessman allegedly linked to the heroin trade.
Calling this week for a boycott of Wente wines, human rights groups
including the Free Burma Coalition cited a Wente press release from Feb. 8
announcing plans to distribute in Myanmar, formerly Burma, through a
company called Asia World Co.
According to Wente's release, Kokang Export/Import Co. - one of several
units of Asia World - is controlled by Steven Law, who is the son of an
allegedly central figure in the Burmese heroin trade, Lo Hsing Han. Mr.
Law himself has been denied a U.S. visa for suspected ties to the Burmese
drug business, the groups said. Wente officials did not return calls
While several companies have been boycott targets for supporting the
Burma's (sic) military regime. human rights groups said Wente is the first
U.S. company targeted specifically over suspected ties to the drug trade.
Burma is believed to supply as much as 60% of the heroin sold in the
United States and 80% in Canada.
More than perhaps any other winery, the 113-year old Livermaore-based
Wente anchors its marketing strategy on exporting. The privately held
vineyard, which is run by fourth generation Wente family members, exports
some 45% of its annual production to over 100 countries. California
exported only 10% of its wine production overall last year.
Wente's Moscow office, established in 1989, was the first such office
opened by a U.S. vineyard in Eastern Europe. Wente was also the first
U.S. vineyard to begin selling in Vietnam after the trade embargo was
relaxed in 1994. Last year Wente's exports soared 200% to 330,000 cases.
But the vineyard's aggressive overseas marketing strategy has hit a snag
in Burma. Larry Dohrs, a spokesman for the Free Burma Coalition in
Seattle, said Lo Hsing Han's involvement in heroin has been known and
written about in books and articles for years. With his son allegedly
identified as participating, Mr. Dohrs said Wente should withdraw.
"once it turned out that they (Wente) were in with a guy who can't come to
their headquarters because he's been denied a visa, I think they have an
obligation to step away from it," Mr. Dohrs said.