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Friday, December 9, 2022

International, charming, and quietly equipping a ruthless military force

The Kyaw Thaung family enjoyed a night out at the Pegu Club three years ago. With the help of a famous Burmese-Irish dynasty, the teak-lined institution had been restored to its 19th-century splendour, conjuring up images of the days when gin-sipping colonialists reigned. The Pegu Club project was a natural match for the family’s East-meets-West perspective as well as the optimism of a nation that was just beginning to engage with the rest of the globe.

After decades of isolationism, the Kyaw Thaungs seemed to represent a rare combination of qualities: an august family with a long history of charitable giving, as well as a commitment to the kinds of economic changes required to bring a corrupt and isolated country into the global market. However, the major source of the family money, which was said to be derived from real estate and import-export businesses, was kept hidden behind a false front.

When speaking at cocktail parties and business forums, the family emphasised the importance of international business norms such as rigorous governance, corporate social responsibility, and open tenders. Hidden away in their homes, the charming Kyaw Thaungs — who were Western-educated and fluent in English — depended on the type of secret dealings with the Tatmadaw that has benefited a whole class of cronies in one of Asia’s poorest and most oppressive countries.

A portion of the family’s military acquisition was designed to circumvent Western export rules intended to prevent the Tatmadaw from expanding its command, according to international sanctions specialists and five former firm workers who spoke to The Associated Press. If coastal radar technology, for example, had been used in violation of these regulations: Rohingya Muslims attempted to flee a military slaughter that United Nations investigators believe may have constituted genocide while the facility was in operation.

Even after the Tatmadaw’s troops were accused of genocide in 2017, the family continued to provide financial and other support to the organisation. During the period in which the military started sharing power with a civilian administration, this violent campaign against the Rohingya gained momentum, sullying the otherwise positive storey of a rare bloodless democratic transition.

According to a leaked document provided by Justice For Myanmar, a watchdog group that investigates Tatmadaw business dealings, in September 2017, as the violence against the Rohingya was causing international concern, Ky-Tha, Mr. Moe Kyaw Thaung’s business group, arranged a meeting between a representative of Safran, a Paris-based aviation and defence manufacturer, and top officers of the Myanmar Air Force. The focus of the conference was on Tatmadaw helicopters, namely the Russian-made MI-17, which is used against Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.

Upon their arrival in Myanmar, the foreign employee and the Brazilian crew were greeted on the tarmac by a group of around 20 men in blue uniforms who surrounded the helicopter, admiring its characteristics. When Mr. Jonathan Kyaw Thaung returned to Myanmar, the employee said he approached him, expressing his dissatisfaction with the deceit and requesting an explanation.

General Min Aung Hlaing presided over a massive parade showing Myanmar’s armaments on Armed Forces Day, which was celebrated in March of this year. Above the procession, a Eurocopter soared above, one of many aircraft employed by the military for maritime surveillance, according to Myanmar’s state news agency. According to the monitoring organisation, security forces opened fire on anti-coup protestors on the same day, killing more than 100 of them.

At least two turboprops and two cargo aircraft were imported into the Tatmadaw fleet from Europe, thanks to the efforts of the KT Group, which managed the process. According to former workers, the arrangements were structured to seem more like commercial transfers to private enterprises, such as its own and the crony aviation company Air KBZ, rather than military procurement.

According to a Times investigation of its corporate documents, Sun Apex Holdings is a Kyaw Thaung firm despite its establishment in the United Kingdom. Among the individuals included in the registration application are an advisor to the Kyaw Thaungs and the daughter of the organization’s founder, among other individuals.

The Coast Watcher 100 is still in need of some maintenance. According to leaked military estimates for 2020-2021, the radar system would get more than $160,000 in funding for maintenance and repair. According to a record of foreign currency transactions included in the treasure from Justice For Myanmar, $120,000 had been spent the year before for the same reason in the prior year.

Anonymous open letters from former Tatmadaw troops have been circulated after the coup, accusing the Kyaw Thaungs of being among Myanmar’s military procurement officials. Members of an armed opposition have slain people suspected of being government collaborators while security personnel are training their rifles on unarmed protestors, according to reports.

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