John Kerry checks into hotel in Burma that is blacklisted by US government

Naypyidaw's Lake Garden hotel is owned by Burmese businessman Zaw Zaw, who has long been seen as being close to Burma’s military and who remains on a US sanctions list

The rooms look comfortable, the reviews appear good and its location 25 minutes from the airport must have made Naypyidaw’s Lake Garden hotel seem like a more than adequate place for John Kerry and his delegation. The only trouble is that it turns out the hotel is owned by a once-notorious businessman who remains on a US's blacklist.

The US Secretary of State stayed at the hotel in Burma’s capital on Saturday night while taking part in a meeting of foreign ministers organised by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

But today it was revealed that while the property is operated by the French Accor SA group, it is owned by Burmese businessman Zaw Zaw, who has long been seen as being close to Burma’s military and who remains on a US sanctions list.

Along with the UK and Europe, the US began suspending many of its decades-old sanctions against Burma in 2012 as a newly-civilian government started releasing political prisoners and moving the country towards democracy.

But the Wall Street Journal reported that Mr Zaw, who heads the Max Myanmar group, is one of around 200 companies and individuals who remain on the US Treasury Department’s list of so-called Specially Designated Nationals (SDN). Sanctions on doing business with them remain in place because of their links to the generals who until recently directly ruled the country, and who still retain great influence.

Mr Zaw Zaw, whose interests include cement factories, bottling plants and jade mines, formerly owned a football team, Delta United, since renamed Ayeyawady United FC, which plays in the national league.

In 2010, a US diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks, reported that Mr Zaw Zaw had made the football-mad grandson of military leader Than Shwe – he once tried to persuade his grandfather to try and purchase Manchester United - a player on the team.  The cables describe the businessman as an “up and coming crony”.

With no small irony, Mr Kerry had talked of the importance of the SDN blacklist remaining in place when he spoke to reporters on Sunday in the grounds of the hotel. 

“Some of the sanctions have been reduced, [but] not all,” the Wall Street Journal reported him as saying. “Sanctions are now very much focused on members of the junta, and on key individuals that may still be representing the challenge to achieving some of these goals.”

The US has claimed Mr Kerry has not breached any rules. The Associated Press quoted State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki as saying the US’s International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which governs such black-listed nationals, “includes an exemption for activities related to travel, including hotel accommodations”.