Myanmar Authorities Begin Probe of Illegal Weapons, Drugs Case

2017-10-18
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The photos show the contents of Myanmar businessman Phyo Ko Ko Tint San’s luggage confiscated by security personnel at the international airport in Naypyidaw, Oct. 15, 2017.
The photos show the contents of Myanmar businessman Phyo Ko Ko Tint San’s luggage confiscated by security personnel at the international airport in Naypyidaw, Oct. 15, 2017.
Photo courtesy of Myanmar's Ministry of Home Affairs/Facebook

Myanmar authorities have begun an investigation following the arrest of one of the country’s top business executives who was caught carrying unlicensed firearms and a small amount of illegal drugs as he prepared to board a plane at Naypyidaw’s international airport earlier this week.

Airport security arrested Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, the 41-year-old chairman of ACE Group — a Myanmar conglomerate whose business lines include construction, machinery, hotels and hospitality, real estate, and entertainment — and two of his employees, Ye Min Swe and Zaw Win Htike, as they prepared to board a flight to the commercial capital Yangon.

An X-ray machine detected two Australian-made 9mm handguns, a drone, walkie-talkies, 12 methamphetamine pills known as yaba, and 1.5 grams of crystal meth in Phyo Ko Ko Tint San’s luggage, according to police.

Police later found more weapons, a cache of ammunition, and military paraphernalia when they searched the room at the ACE Hotel in Naypyidaw where Phyo Ko Ko Tint San was staying, said Police Colonel Zaw Khin Aung of the Naypyidaw police.

They also found additional pistols and bullets in the hotel room of one of the ACE Group employees who had accompanied Phyo Ko Ko Tint San to the airport.

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San is a former member of parliament and son of a minister who served in the previous quasi-civilian government that ruled Myanmar until 2016. He also owns the Naypyidaw Football Club.

Police have frozen some of Phyo Ko Ko Tint San’s bank accounts and have searched other places he has lived or stayed, including his home in Yangon’s Bahan township and the ACE company building in the city’s Thaketa township, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.

In all, a dozen people have been arrested in Naypyidaw and Yangon in connection with the incident and 22 guns have been confiscated, police said.

Though Zaw Khin Aung said that the guns seized at the airport were used for self-defense, the other guns found during a search of the ACE hotel where Phyo Ko Ko Tint San lives were not related to terrorist or other organizations, Zaw Khin Aung said.

Charges filed

On Wednesday, Zaw Khin Aung said police had not found any additional weapons that day, but interrogations of those who were arrested, including Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, revealed that the guns had been brought into the country via the Myawaddy-Thailand border crossing.

Authorities have charged Phyo Ko Ko Tint San and four others with illegal possession of weapons and drugs, he said.

“We got one week of remand for them and can extend it if we need to,” he said.

At a press conference in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, Major General Aung Soe, deputy minister of home affairs, said that authorities had started an investigation of the culprits and prioritized the pursuit of anyone linked to the men and any accomplices.

“The most important thing is to be able to seize remaining weapons and arrest accomplices,” he said. “So, we are working to make sure they don’t escape.”

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, is the son of Tint Hsan, who served as the country’s hotels and tourism minister from March 2011 to August 2012 and as sports minister from 2012 to 2016 during former President Thein Sein’s administration.

His father is a former Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmaker for the lower house of parliament, representing Myaungmya township in the Ayeyarwady region

Tint Hsan currently serves as senior president of ACE Construction Group, a major Myanmar construction company based in Yangon, which he founded in 1988.

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San ran as a USDP candidate for the lower house of parliament representing Myaungmya township in the Ayeyarwady region in Myanmar’s 2012 by-elections, but he lost to Mahn Johnny, a National League for Democracy (NLD) candidate who now serves as chief minister of Ayeyarwady region.

Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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