Myanmar’s Magwe Government Confirms Return of Funds in Embezzlement Scandal

The incident has prompted a lawmaker in the country’s Ayeyarwady region to raise questions about the transfer of money.

Aung Moe Nyo, chief minister of central Myanmar's Magwe region, May 2017.

The chief minister of central Myanmar’s Magwe region on Friday confirmed the receipt of 8 billion kyats (U.S.$ 5.8 billion) in missing money by the region’s previous leader in an alleged embezzlement of regional development funds.

Magwe Chief Minister Aung Moe Nyo told a press conference that former Chief Minister Phone Maw Shwe and Kyi Tun, chairman of the Shwe Thukha Microcredit Association and chairman of the Magwe Division Development Foundation, returned 3 billion kyats (U.S. $2.2 million) on Thursday and another 5 billion kyats (U.S. $3.6 million) on Friday.

“They transferred this money to the Magwe regional government’s bank account,” he said.

“We are keeping the returned money in an account, and we will use it according to the rules and regulations of the region if it’s needed,” he said.

Questions about the money arose a year ago when a lawmaker from Magwe’s Pwintbyu township asked parliament about the alleged embezzlement of regional development funds collected as taxation from small-scale oil producers in Magwe region by the previous regional government.

An investigation by the Bureau of Special Investigations under the Ministry of Home Affairs found that 7.5 billion kyats (U.S. $5.5 million) was missing, more than 3 billion of which had been spent on the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was then in power.

Regional government investigators are still reviewing a claim of 4 billion kyats (U.S. $2.9 million) that was supposedly used for regional development in Magwe.

“The Magwe regional government has asked the Magwe Region Special Investigation Department to work on where and how the 4 billion kyats were used, because the public wants to know about it,” Aung Moe Nyo said.

The ruling government under the National League of Democracy (NLD) party sent letters dated April 18 to Phone Maw Shwe and Nyi Tun asking them to return 3.2 billion kyats (U.S. $2.3 million) that had been transferred to the Shwe Thukha Microcredit Association during the previous government’s term along with four motor vehicles, a backhoe, and two boats that had been donated to the USDP through the Magwe Division Development Foundation.

Meanwhile, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported that the USDP will not take action against Phone Maw Shwe because he has returned the funds.

Ayeyarwady region funds

The scandal has prompted lawmakers in other regions to raise questions about government funds.

Meanwhile, Zeya Min Thein, a lawmaker from Pyapon township in Ayeyarwady region, told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Friday that that the former USDP government did not transfer any development funds to its successor.

Such funds are earmarked for providing power to the region and for the building and maintenance of clinics and roads in villages, he said.

When a regional parliament committee asked about the funds, Ayeyarwady’s social minister responded that the Office of the Auditor had been notified about the matter, and in turn informed the relevant authority to clarify the issue.

“I asked a question about this development fund, and the Ayeyarwady region’s social minister answered, saying that the regional government hasn’t received any yet and will investigate the matter,” Zeya Min Thein said.

Reported by Zaw Tu and Kaung Htet Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.