The junta has detained one of Myanmar’s richest tycoons and accused him of involvement in graft with several former ministers from the government of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the regime’s so-called Anti-Corruption Commission has said.
Chit Khine, the 74-year-old president of the Eden Group conglomerate, was detained on Friday in Naypyitaw shortly after returning from a trip abroad, a source close to the tycoon told Myanmar Now on condition of anonymity.
The junta’s commission claimed on Tuesday that Chit Khine committed corruption between 2018 and 2021 while running a coal-fired power station in Tigyit, southern Shan State, as part of a joint venture with a state-owned enterprise.
Ohn Win, the former natural resources minister, and Win Khaing, who was energy minister under the National League for Democracy (NLD), were also accused of graft, as was former deputy energy minister Tun Naing.
All three men are already in detention after being arrested in the wake of last year’s military coup.
Chit Khine’s son, Win Min Khine, who is Eden Group’s managing director, was also accused of involvement. The source close to Chit Khine said his son has evaded arrest because he is not in the country.
Also accused on Tuesday were Than Naing Oo, the former managing director of the Electric Power Generation Enterprise (EPGE), and Kyaw San, who was managing director of the state-owned No.1 Mining Enterprise.
The men face up to 15 years in prison each under sections 55 and 63 of Myanmar’s anti-graft law. They caused the loss of 25.3 billion kyat, or roughly $13.6 million, of state funds from the Tigyit power station, the junta’s commission said.
Among other things, the commission claimed that top government officials allowed Eden Group to pay a lower tax rate than it should have on its earnings from the project. The company was taxed based on outdated 2017 coal prices, it said.
The natural resources ministry’s No.1 Mining Enterprise ran coal production of the Tigyit project along with the Eden Group. A Chinese company also has a stake in the project.
The Eden Group had a contract with the energy ministry’s EPGE that required it to produce 2,000 tons of coal per day, the commission said. Instead, the company sold 1,750 tons per day but raised the price per ton, it added.
The source close to Chit Khine said that the tycoon is innocent. “The project had no business for three or four years and they had losses including for the infrastructure costs,” he said. “The NLD government wanted to relieve those losses and reduced the price [of coal].”
“That was decided with proper meetings and they have records, according to what Eden people told me,” he added. “It was not done as a favour… This is just an accusation. They have facts to prove their innocence if the trial is fair.”
The Eden Group was awarded the licence to help run the Tigyit plant in 2000, under the rule of former dictator Than Shwe. It also has interests in hotels, construction, agriculture, restaurants and banking.
Chit Khine became one of Myanmar’s richest men while enjoying close ties with the former military regime. He owns the Ayeyawady United football club and is believed to have helped fund the construction of Naypyitaw in the early 2000s.
He was previously blacklisted by western countries for his military connections but removed from the sanctions lists in 2016.
Eden Group runs numerous hotels, including two Hiltons in Naypyitaw and at Ngapali beach. It also owns the Myanmar Apex Bank, which has about 80 branches nationwide, as well as the Denko petrol station chain.
Despite his close ties to Myanmar’s former military junta, Chit Khine is seen as an ally of Suu Kyi. He served as the chair of the party’s local branch in Yangon’s Insein Township between 1989 and 1990.
After the coup last year, the Myanmar Agribusiness Public Company, where Chit Khine is chair, sold its stake in the military-owned telecoms provider Mytel.
In March, the junta arrested prominent tycoon Khin Shwe and his son Zay Thiha and accused them of demolishing historic buildings on land they had rented from the defence ministry.
A source close to Khin Shwe’s family said that the arrest was also related to outstanding rental fees for military-owned land.
Khin Shwe served as an MP representing part of Yangon for the military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party between 2010 until 2015. His daughter, Zay Zin Latt, is the wife of Shwe Mann, the former USDP chair who ran afoul of the military for his ties to Suu Kyi.
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