Myanmar Charges Religious Affairs Minister with Misuse of Funds

myanmar-buddhist-devotees-may-2014.jpg Buddhist devotees pour water on a sacred tree as they take part in a ceremony at the Shwedagon pagoda to mark Buddha's birthday in Yangon, May 13, 2014.

Predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar’s religious affairs minister Hsan Sint was detained and charged with corruption Thursday as the government appointed new leaders to a religious affairs advisory group, local media reported Thursday.

President Thein Sein announced on state media that Hsan Sint has been sacked over the case, which arose amid tensions following a controversial raid on a monastery in Yangon which triggered warnings of protests by monks.  

Hsan Sint, who was appointed to head the Religious Affairs Ministry in January last year, was accused of misusing ministerial funds at a court in the capital Naypyidaw, according to Myanmar’s 7Day Daily newspaper.

It said that Hsan Sint was summoned to court at 2:00 p.m. and charged with “misappropriation of state money for personal use.”

“Many cars and security personnel were at the court. [The hearing] lasted about 15 minutes and then [Hsan Sint] left with his convoy,” the report said, in an indication that he had been freed on bail pending trial on an unknown date.

The Eleven newspaper said the charges against Hsan Sint came under Sec. 409/109 of the Misappropriations of State Funds Act.

Misuse of funds

Eleven cited “reliable sources” as saying an investigation had revealed that Hsan Sint used some 10.5 million kyat (U.S. $10,740) in funds earmarked for the ministry to construct a pagoda in his family’s name in Naypyidaw’s Lewe township in October last year.

In constructing the pagoda, he used departmental vehicles, fuel and staff in the amount of 3.3 million kyat (U.S. $3,375)—2.8 million kyat (U.S. $2,860) of which he repaid to the ministry in November, the report said.

The project was completed in December, by which time he had misused another 7.2 million kyat (U.S. $7,360) “and falsified his departmental accounts,” Eleven said, citing a police report.

Eleven also reported that sources close to the minister said he had a falling out with cabinet members over the plan to raid a monastery involved in an ownership dispute with the State Sangha Maha Nayaka, or official Buddhist monastic committee, earlier this month.

It said that Hsan Sint was against the June 10 raid, during which officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, accompanied by around 300 riot police, took control of the disputed Mahasantisukha monastery in Yangon’s Tamwe township, while its popular abbot, Pyinya Wuntha, was visiting Japan.

Fifteen of the monks were released a day after the raid, but five others—including a British citizen—were charged, stripped of their clerical status by senior monks and sent to Yangon’s notorious Insein prison on June 13.

The raid has raised tensions, with some monks threatening to hold large protests if the five are not released.

Eleven said that Hsan Sint, a member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has a “clean record” in his past positions in the military as well as speaker of the Irrawaddy region parliament, which he held before his appointment to the Religious Affairs Ministry last year.

Religious advisory group

The corruption case came as state media on Thursday announced new leaders to a religious affairs advisory group.

Former Minister of Religious Affairs Myint Maung was named to lead the group.

Myint Maung, a brigadier under the former military junta, had retired from his post after facing blame for failing to assist monks injured in a police crackdown on protesters at the Letpadaung copper mine in 2012.

Former ambassador Sein Win Aung, the father-in-law of the president’s daughter, was appointed as the number two in the advisory group.

The government is also facing criticism from human rights groups over draft laws aimed at protecting the country's majority Buddhist identity by regulating religious conversions and marriages between people of different faiths.

The international community has also slammed the government’s treatment of minority Muslim Rohingyas in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where at least 250 people have died and thousands were displaced in several bouts of religious violence since 2012.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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