Myanmar national dies in Wa state after being sold into scam gang

Police located the man 6 miles from the Chinese border
By RFA Burmese
2023.10.11
Myanmar national dies in Wa state after being sold into scam gang A closeup of Zaw Than's hand following his beating by a scam gang, Oct. 6, 2023.
Citizen journalist

A man is dead after being sold to a money-laundering gang in United Wa State Army territory, family members told Radio Free Asia Wednesday. 

After Zaw Than went to the Wa-controlled Wein Kawng in northeast Myanmar for work, his family said they lost contact. But in early October, they received a phone call claiming their son owed more than 16 million kyat (US$7,500).

The Chinese national told the family he had covered Zaw Than’s debts in late September after he allegedly lost the money gambling at a casino in Mong Pauk, just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border with China. 

Zaw Than’s family reported the incident to Wa state’s police department, where they said they were told he had been trafficked into a gang known for its money-laundering schemes. The police officer told the family their son had been sold to the gang for over 95 million kyat (US$14,300) by the Chinese national who had called them demanding the ransom. 

On Oct. 4, they traveled to Wein Kawng from their home in Shan state, asking police to help them find Zaw Than. The following evening, officers were able to locate him and arrange a meeting.

But when they arrived, they said their son was badly beaten and struggling to breathe. 

“He could not even breathe normally when I found him.” a family member told RFA, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.. 

“He died the same day because of his injuries from the beatings. They were all over his body, and many internal injuries. This is injustice. I want justice for him.”

The family member said an autopsy confirmed their son died from his injuries. They have since complained to Wa state officials and their external relations department.

RFA contacted Lashio-based Wa liaison officer Nyi Ran seeking comment on the incident, but he had not responded by the time of publication. 

Wa state’s Mong Pauk, Pangsang, and Wein Kawng are well-known hubs for crime, including online scamming, sex trafficking, and money-laundering. Last year, 19 Myanmar nationals were sold and held against their will in one scam center in Mong Pauk after being told they would get high-paying jobs. Thai women have also reported being trafficked in the region. 

The Wa army controls portions of southern and northern Shan state and keeps close ties with China. 

Both territories are also attempting to crack down on the online crime rampant on the border. In September, Wa forces returned more than 1,300 Chinese nationals involved in online fraud.

Despite this transfer, illegal businesses are still a recurring problem, a person assisting Wa state’s labor affairs ministry told RFA, adding that many Chinese nationals start businesses under Myanmar names. 

RFA contacted the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar via email regarding gang activity and Zaw Than’s death, but the office did not immediately respond.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn.

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