An Ex-Ally Testifies In Myanmar Trial of Aung Sen Suu Kyi

In a corruption case reported by the junta, former Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein testified against detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government appointed Phyo Min Thein as a minister, and she was once rumored to be her successor.
As the witness testified, Suu Kyi began hearings for four corruption charges-originally filed against her at Mandalay Regional High Court-at a court in Naypyitaw, according to her defense team.
Shin Maung Zaw, the lead defense lawyer at the hearing, said Phyo Min Thein appeared as a main witness for one of the charges filed by the junta’s anti-corruption commission.
Suu Kyi was accused by the military junta in March of accepting bribes totaling $600,000 and seven visses, or about 11.4kg, of gold, from the former chief minister in return for supporting and protecting his businesses.
The junta responded to Phyo Min Thein’s accusations with a video.
According to him, judge Myint San of the Mandalay Region High Court presided over the corruption cases against Suu Kyi and the plaintiff, a member of the anti-graft commission, also testified at the hearing.
According to the lawyer, Phyo Min Thein did not even look Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the eye. He just kept his head down and walked straight to the witness corner. His voice was so soft that we had to tell him to speak louder.”
“He testified the same as in the video released by the military council,” he said.
Khin Maung Zaw said the judge attempted to have the defence team question the former chief minister so that he would not have to travel from Yangon to Naypyitaw at a future hearing.
Phyo Min Thein told the court that someone else arranged his trip to Naypyitaw. He explained that he has been suffering from a chronic heart condition and was infected twice with Coronavirus in recent months, the lawyer said.
Suu Kyi’s lawyers refused the judge’s request to question him because she had not consulted with them about the cases and had not been able to see the files until just before the hearing.
Phyo Min Thein was summoned again by the judge and another hearing was scheduled for October 8.
It is unclear what pressure Phyo Min Thein is facing to testify against his own party leader, said Thein Oo, the justice minister for the underground National Unity Government. His testimony in Suu Kyi’s case is crucial, he added.
“It is important to know whether he is in a position to testify freely and independently,” he said. “There are many false witnesses in judiciary affairs, which will become more apparent during such a period.”
“There will be cases where the junta tortures and threatens people to testify falsely,” he said.
Phyo Min Thein talks with members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party during a meeting between NLD and government members in Yangon in 2019 (EPA)
Phyo Min Thein talks with National League for Democracy (NLD) party members during a meeting between NLD and government members in Yangon in 2019 (EPA).
Phyo Min Thein was a university student during the 1988 democratic uprising and became active in politics as a founding member of the Democratic Party for a New Society.
He was arrested in 1991 for his political activities and sentenced to seven years in prison. The military government added more prison time when he was in jail and he was eventually released in 2005.
Before becoming an NLD member in 2012, he was involved in two other smaller political parties. He ran in the 2012 by-election as an NLD party representative for Yangon’s Hlegu Township. He won that election and became an MP at the Lower House.
He became a central executive committee member at the party and was appointed Yangon’s chief minister by Suu Kyi after he won the 2015 election representing the same township at the Yangon region parliament.
During his tenure, he faced several controversies involving criticism from within the party as well as from the business community and the general public.
He participated in a 2019 public event in Yangon supporting Suu Kyi when she went to the Hague to defend the country against charges of committing genocide against the Rohingya at the International Court of Justice.
The public should stand together with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is trying to resolve a Myanmar issue, Phyo Min Thein said at the event.
After the military seized power from the NLD government on February 1, Phyo Min Thein was among those arrested.
After a month, the military announced that its anti-graft commission was investigating Suu Kyi for corruption and that Phyo Min Thein had admitted giving her the bribes.
There are five corruption charges against Suu Kyi: two concern her alone, two concern two ministers in her government, and two involve Naypyitaw council members.
Suu Kyi’s defense lawyers said other charges are related to land ownership issues at the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a charity she founded in the name of her mother.
In addition, the military has filed a separate corruption case against Suu Kyi at the Yangon Regional High Court, but no details have been disclosed, and lawyers believe that case may also be transferred to Naypyitaw.
She is also accused of illegally importing walkie-talkies, of breaking Covid-19 regulations, and of incitement, among other things. One violation of the Official Secrets Act carries a 14-year sentence.
Sean Turnell, Suu Kyi’s economic advisor, as well as Kyaw Win, who served as the NLD’s finance minister, his successor, Soe Win, and deputy minister Set Aung have also been named in the case.

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