Struggling Aung San Suu Kyi faces multiplying junta charges

Bribery and corruption claims ingredients in ‘sham’ trial for ousted Myanmar leader

Myanmar’s   Aung San Suu Kyi: Her first court appearance last month was held in a room in a government building mocked up to look like a courtroom, with no lawyers present. Photograph: Hein Htet

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi: Her first court appearance last month was held in a room in a government building mocked up to look like a courtroom, with no lawyers present. Photograph: Hein Htet

 

Aung San Suu Kyi is running low on money, does not know where she is being detained and is mostly unaware of the violent unrest unfolding in her country, according to her lawyer.

The ousted 75-year-old Myanmar leader’s trial will open on Monday in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, where she faces a widening array of charges heaped on her since the military toppled her government in a coup.

“She’s not aware – I mean she doesn’t have a clear grasp – of what’s happening in Burma,” Khin Maung Zaw, her lead lawyer, told the Financial Times, using the former name for Myanmar, where the junta has arrested thousands and used deadly force to suppress an uprising.

He said that Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held incommunicado since the February 1st coup, had been moved from her ministerial residence in Myanmar’s capital to an unknown location the night before her first court appearance on May 24th.

Myanmar’s former leader had to leave her home where she had been staying with her dog Taichito, he said, and asked her legal team for medicine and food “to make ends meet” at a meeting last week.

Military regime

Aung San Suu Kyi’s relatives, including sons in the UK and US, have been in touch with the UK foreign office, “but don’t believe any messages have reached her”, according to a person close to the family, who asked not to be named.

The former leader’s imprisonment and impending trial by the military regime mark an extraordinary turn of events for the former Nobel laureate and national leader, whose National League for Democracy won electoral landslides in 2015 and 2020. Criminal convictions would bar her from running for office.

“The trial is obviously a sham, and the only reason why the military has even announced the date is due to international pressure,” said Manny Maung, Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch. “They would happily keep Aung San Suu Kyi detained and out of view for as long as they can.”

Junta authorities have brought five criminal charges against her, including for illegally importing walkie talkies and an electronic jammer device found at her house when she was arrested, and for violating Myanmar’s natural disaster law by violating Covid-19 regulations during last year’s campaign.

Misuse of land

Her first court appearance last month was held in a room in a government building mocked up to look like a courtroom, with no lawyers present.

Last week, regime authorities opened a new corruption investigation against her and three other former officials in connection with alleged misuse of land and public funds for the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a charitable group set up in honour of her late mother.

According to a report in the government-run Global New Light of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi paid “lower than reasonable prices for land lease”, and a residence was built for her using cash contributions from the public. The report also claimed Myanmar’s ousted leader accepted $600,000 and 11.4kg of gold.

Her lawyer dismissed the accusations of bribery and corruption as “absurd” and “groundless”.

“In my experience . . . I’ve never met any statesman more honest and incorruptible than Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” Khin Maung Zaw said. “She might have defects, but personal greed and corruption are not [among] her traits.”– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021