RANGOON — Aik Htun, chairman of Shwe Taung Group of companies, said his firm has yet to break ground on a planned US $150-million real estate project located at former military offices near Shwedagon Pagoda in central Rangoon, despite earlier announcements that construction would begin this year.
In 2011, Shwe Taung Group was awarded a 70-year-lease of the coveted 12-acre premises, located south of the landmark temple between Shwedagon Pagoda Road and Ahlan Pya Pagoda Road.
Aik Htun announced he would work with a Singaporean project developer to construct a luxury hotel, an Asia Royal Private Hospital, serviced apartments and a small shopping center. In April, he told local media that construction would start this year and that the first building would be completed by 2015.
The well-connected tycoon told The Irrawaddy, however, that so far construction had not yet begun.
“Though I aimed to start this year, it has still not yet begun until now,” Aik Htun said in a brief comment during a break at the Women’s Forum in Rangoon on Friday.
Located in leafy environs and surrounded by a crumbling red-brick wall, the area served as the War Office of the British Army after it reconquered Rangoon from Japanese troops in 1942. Later, it was used by the Burma Army.
The premises was sold off as part of a massive privatization drive in 2010-2011 that saw businessmen snap up numerous government buildings, state-owned companies and 250 gas stations, often at bargain prices that raised suspicions of government corruption.
According to zoning rules of the Yangon City Development Committee, buildings constructed in the vicinity of Shwedagon Pagoda will be restricted to 78 feet, while in nearby areas towards downtown buildings must be lower than 190 feet.
Shwe Taung conglomerate has interests in real estate, construction and engineering, and owns a cement factory. The firm was known as Olympic Construction Company until 2004 when it changed its name following a banking scandal at Asia Wealth Bank. The US Treasury accused the bank of money laundering and having connections to the Shan State drug trade.
Aik Htun was director of Asia Wealth Bank, Burma’s biggest private bank until its shutdown. He built up his conglomerate through cutting deals with the former military regime. A US Embassy cable from 2007, said, “Aik Htun enjoys the regime’s confidence, and benefits handsomely from its business.”
His construction firms have built numerous housing complexes, shopping malls, schools and medical facilities in Rangoon and Naypyidaw. Currently, his firm is building an annex to Shangri-La’s Traders Hotel on Sule Pagoda Road in downtown Rangoon.
In September, Aik Htun told The Bangkok Post that he plans to invest $500 million property development in Burma in the next five years, and he called for Thai firms to partner with him.
Following the economic reforms introduced by President Thein Sein, Rangoon has experienced a property market boom and numerous buildings have been planned around Burma’s biggest city.