Yangon region’s attorney general appeared in High Court in the commercial city on Tuesday along with five other civil servants to face charges of taking bribes totaling tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for dropping a murder case.
Authorities arrested Han Htoo and the five others earlier this month on suspicion that they accepted bribes to dismiss a case against three men who allegedly beat to death Facebook comedian Aung Yell Htwe on New Year’s Eve, local media reported.
The others are Yangon Eastern District Court Judge Aung Kyi, Yangon Region law officer Thein Zaw, Yangon Eastern District law officer Ko Ko Lay, Yangon Eastern District deputy law officer Thit Thit Khin, and police Lieutenant Chit Ko Ko, reports said.
The three suspected killers were allowed to walk free on July 25, sparking public outrage and a request from Myanmar President Win Myint who asked the Union Attorney General and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate, the online journal Frontier Myanmar reported.
The ACC filed a case on Sept. 13 against Han Htoo under Article 55 of the Anti-Corruption Law and against the five others under Article 56 of the same law, said prominent Myanmar legal activist and human rights lawyer Robert San Aung, who was present at the High Court hearing on Tuesday.
The ACC has accused them all of accepting bribes totaling 72 million kyats (U.S. $44,400) in cash and in kind, including bottles of scotch whiskey, with Han Htoo reportedly receiving 15 million kyats ($9,250), and Aung Kyi accepting the largest sum of 33 million kyats ($20,350), according to local media reports.
Han Htoo, who was dismissed from his post following his arrest, was sent to Insein prison along with the others on Tuesday.
“Because today is the first day of prosecution, we will be evaluating the case and holding hearings on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5,” Robert San Aung told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The cases will be the first high-profile corruption proceedings to go to trial under the civilian-led National League for Democracy government since it came to power in 2016.
If found guilty, Han Htoo and the others will face sentences of 10-15 years in prison, Robert San Aung said.
On Sept. 24, the Yangon High Court ordered that the case against the alleged murderers be reopened in Yangon’s Eastern District Court, Frontier Myanmar reported.
Earlier this year, the ACC investigated allegations against Kyaw Win, former minister for planning and finance, but the charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence, the journal said.
The Anti-Corruption Law, which took effect in 2013 under the previous military-backed government led by the now-opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), was amended in 2014, 2016, 2017, and June 2018.
The most significant change under the last set of amendments allows the 15-member ACC to launch investigations of civil servants on its own, instead of opening probes only when it receives formal complaints citing allegations of corruption with strong supporting evidence.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.