Myanmar court convicts Suu Kyi on more charges, extends jail term to 26 years

4 mins read 4 mins read

Myanmar (AFP) — A court in military-ruled Myanmar convicted the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on two more corruption charges Wednesday, with two three-year sentences to be served concurrently, adding to previous convictions that now leave her with a 26-year total prison term, a legal official said.

Suu Kyi, 77, was detained on February 1, 2021, when the military seized power from her elected government. She has denied the allegations against her in this case, in which she was accused of receiving $550,000 as a bribe from Maung Weik, a tycoon convicted of drug trafficking.

Corruption cases comprise the biggest share of the many charges the military has brought against the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Suu Kyi has been charged with 12 counts in total under the country’s Anti-Corruption Act, with each count punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine.

Suu Kyi had already been sentenced to 23 years’ imprisonment after being convicted of illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions, breaching Myanmar‘s official secrets act, sedition, election fraud and five corruption charges.

Her supporters and independent analysts say the charges are politically motivated and an attempt to discredit her and legitimize the military’s seizure of power while keeping her from taking part in the next election, which the military has promised in 2023.

In recent months, her trials have been held in a purpose-built courtroom in the main prison on the outskirts of the capital, Naypyitaw. Suu Kyi has not been seen or allowed to speak in public since she was arrested and her lawyers, who had been a source of information on the proceedings, were no longer allowed to speak publicly on her behalf or about her trial after a gag order was placed on them last year.

The ruling came hours before a Myanmar court sentenced Japanese journalist Toru Kubota to an additional three years in prison on Wednesday on charges of violating an immigration law, the Japanese Asahi newspaper reported, citing court sources.

Kubota, 26, was sentenced to seven years in jail on separate charges of violating sedition and communication laws last week following his arrest in July at a protest in Myanmar’s main city of Yangon.

The sentences will be served concurrently, the junta has said.

Allegations of payments

In the case against Suu Kyi, the country’s ousted leader was accused of receiving a total of $550,000 in 2019 and 2020 from Maung Weik, with separate payments being treated as two offences.

Maung Weik, a construction magnate, had a close relationship with the army generals in power during a previous military-run government, and has headed two main companies during three decades in business: Maung Weik & Family Co. Ltd., specializing in the trading of metals and agricultural products, and Sae Paing Development Ltd., a real estate and construction company.

He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2008 for trafficking drugs, but released in 2014 under a semi-democratic transitional government led by former General Thein Sein.

After his release from prison, Maung Weik returned to doing business with former generals and according to a 2017 report in The Irrawaddy, an online news magazine, became chairman of Mandalay Business Capital City Development, which was involved in urban development work.

Under Suu Kyi’s government, Maung Weik won a major development project that included the construction of houses, restaurants, hospitals, economic zones, a port and hotel zones in Myanmar’s central Mandalay region.

He was reportedly interrogated by the army two weeks after its takeover last year, and shortly after that, in March 2021, military-controlled state television broadcast a video in which he claimed to have given cash payoffs to government ministers to help his businesses.

He said in his video that the money included $100,000 provided to Suu Kyi in 2018 for a charitable foundation named after her mother, and another $450,000 in payments in 2019 and 2020 for purposes he did not specify.

A state-controlled newspaper, the Global New Light of Myanmar, reported in February that Suu Kyi in her position as state counselor – the country’s de facto chief executive – received $550,000 in four installments in 2019-2020 “to facilitate the business activities of a private entrepreneur”.

Suu Kyi’s close colleague, Zaw Myint Maung, who served as a chief minister in the Mandalay region, was separately accused of receiving more than $180,000 from Maung Weik and was convicted of corruption in June.

Wednesday’s verdict sentencing Suu Kyi to two three-year sentences was conveyed by a legal official who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities.

He added that her lawyers are expected to file an appeal in the coming days.

Face of the opposition

In separate proceedings, Suu Kyi is still being tried together with the country’s former president, Win Myint, on another five corruption charges in connection with granting permits to a Cabinet minister for the rental and purchase of a helicopter.

Suu Kyi has been the face of the opposition to military rule in Myanmar for more than three decades. She was placed under house arrest by the previous military government in 1989, which continued on and off for 15 of the next 22 years.

Her National League for Democracy party initially came to power after winning the 2015 general election, ushering in a true civilian government for the first time since a 1962 military coup. However, democratic reforms were minor and slow in coming, largely because the military retained substantial power and influence under the terms of a constitution it had enacted in 2008.

The National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the 2020 election, but its lawmakers were kept from taking their seats in parliament by the army, which also arrested the party’s top leaders.

The army said it acted because there had been massive voting fraud in the election, but independent election observers did not find any major irregularities.

The 2021 takeover was met by nationwide peaceful protests that security forces quashed with deadly force, triggering fierce armed resistance that some UN experts now characterize as civil war.

According to a detailed list compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog group now based in Thailand, at least 2,343 civilians have been killed and 15,821 arrested by security forces.