A team investigating the disappearance of nearly U.S. $100 million in funds belonging to a gem association submitted its findings on Wednesday to Myanmar's minister of natural resources and environmental conservation, the lead investigator said.
The team had investigated nine members of the gem association’s central committee, authorities from the Ministry of Mines, gem association chairman Yone Mu, and three others who had been accused of misappropriating money, said Win Htein, director general of the Department of Mines under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation and chairman of the investigative team.
“We investigated ministry staff, and the last investigation was done on June 6,” he said about the unpublished internal report submitted to Minister Ohn Win. “What we found is that this fund does not belong to the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association.”
“It is the central committee’s fund,” he said, in reference to the Myanmar Jade and Gems Emporium Central Committee, which consists of the chairman of the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association, 10 vice chairmen and secretaries.
The emporium is the country's largest gem marketplace where local retailers and producers of finished products purchase millions of dollars of precious stones. Myanmar’s Ministry of Mines managed the central committee’s funds under the previous government.
Thein Sein not investigated
Former president Thein Sein and former minister of the President’s Office Soe Thein, who have been accused of taking money from the fund, were excluded from the investigation because the investigative team could not determine that they were involved in the scandal, Win Htein said.
“This [incident] occurred because there is no transparency in the association, such as holding monthly meetings to explain the latest situation,” he said.
The three-member investigative team, which includes a managing director from the Ministry of Mines and the managing director of the state-owned Myanmar Pearl Enterprise under the Ministry of Mines, worked for two weeks, he said.
“While we investigated ministry staff and reviewed [relevant] documents, we didn’t question every accused person because we didn’t see anything that indicated their involvement in the scandal,” Win Htein said.
Also on Wednesday, the gem association announced that it is forming a new investigative commission consisting of experts, complainants and defendants to further investigate the matter, said Yone Mu, according to a report in the online journal The Irrawaddy.
The commission will look at a transaction concerning the alleged misappropriation of funds transferred from the Myanmar Jade and Gems Emporium Central Committee to the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association, the report said.
Eighty-six members of the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association called on authorities in May to look into the disappearance of the money, including U.S. $1.1 million that allegedly went to Thein Sein.
The trade group had demanded that Myanmar’s new National League for Democracy (NLD) government take action against the previous administration for its role in the embezzlement scandal.
The fund, opened under the Ministry of Mines during Thein Sein’s administration, contained about $104 million accumulated from an annual one-percent fee charged to those who work in the gem industry and sell their products at the emporium.
But the value of the fund had dwindled to less than U.S. $8 million, Win Htein said a week ago.
The same day, former Minister of Mines Myint Aung, who was appointed by Thein Sein in September 2012, said the allegations against his former boss were unfounded, and that the missing money had been properly spent and accounted for.
Of the U.S. $7.8 million in question, Thein Sein placed U.S. $1.1 million in the Ministry of Construction’s bank account, he said. The remainder, which was raised separately from businessmen, also remained in the bank.
Myanmar's jade industry alone is worth U.S. $31 billion, according to a report issued last October by London-based anti-corruption and environmental advocacy group Global Witness.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.