Myanmar’s military regime has filed 11 charges, including five corruption cases, against detained State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. At the recent court hearing for those corruption charges, former Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein testified that he gave seven viss (around 11.4 kg) of gold and US$600,000 to the State Counselor while she was in office.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has dismissed his claims as ‘all absurd’. On October 8, lawyers for the National League for Democracy leader cross-examined U Phyo Min Thein about the corruption accusations at the special court in Naypyitaw where Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is on trial. One of her lawyers, U Kyi Win, talked to The Irrawaddy about the cross-examination.
Please tell us about the cross-examination of U Phyo Min Thein.
We cross-examined him about his claim that he gave seven viss of gold and US$600,000 as a bribe to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on three separate visits. U Phyo Min Thein is on the NLD central executive committee and was a chief minister. We asked if it was true that he was not charged, while President U Win Myint, other central executive committee members and chief ministers were detained and charged. He answered ‘Yes.’ He said that he had been at the interrogation camp for nearly nine months.
He said he didn’t remember the dates when he gave the gold and dollars to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. And he also said that he knew that no gold and dollars were found in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s possession or were submitted as evidence to the court.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she had no reason to hold meetings with chief ministers. She said she had not held meetings with them and thus had no reason to take bribes from them, while the chief ministers also had no reason to bribe her. So then there emerged a legal question and we asked U Phyo Min Thein if it is true that region and state chief ministers are appointed by the President under Section 265(b) of the 2008 Constitution. He answered ‘Yes.’ We asked if it is true that chief ministers are responsible to the President. He answered ‘Yes.’ So we argued that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was appointed as State Counselor under the 2016 State Counselor Law, and she is assigned with only four responsibilities under the law: the promotion of democracy, the market economy, peace and federal democracy. So she has nothing to do with chief ministers. Their job descriptions are different. There is no reason for her to use her influence on U Phyo Min Thein.
According to Section 55 of Anti-Corruption Law, it is not corruption unless one abuses their position of power to take bribes. So we phrased our question to highlight that there was no violation of Section 55.
How did U Phyo Min Thein appear when he came to the court for the second time?
He didn’t look at the lawyers. He looked nowhere. And he answered in a low voice, so we could barely hear him. He only answered ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to questions.
What has Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said about the case?
She doesn’t interfere in the work of her lawyers. We asked if U Phyo Min Thein gave her the gold and cash. She said he didn’t and that she had no reason to take it if he had offered it. That’s why she said it is all absurd.
We heard that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remarked that the defendant can sue the plaintiff if the plaintiff files a false complaint of corruption?
According to Section 59 of the Anti-Corruption Law, one can sue the plaintiff if he intentionally files a false complaint. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi might have some legal knowledge and she said, ‘It is possible to sue someone if they tell lies, isn’t it?’
How was Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when you saw her at the court?
She was interested [in the case]. She was cheerful and talked with the lawyers. After the trial, she stood up and said goodbye to the lawyers.
What did you notice about the testimony of prosecutor U Ye Htet, who is from the military-appointed Myanmar Anti-Corruption Commission?
We haven’t finished cross-examining him yet. He brought out a note in which he noted down the claims made by others and read it out. No witness had testified at the court at that time. It was all second-hand information. So we lawyers raised an objection. According to Section 60 of the Evidence Act, the testimony must be a first-hand account. But he knows nothing and all he said was second-hand information.
From a legal point of view are you satisfied with the way the case is progressing?
It is good. We asked the prosecutor if there were any corruption complaints against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi before February 1 2021. According to the law, only when there are complaints, should they be collectively submitted to the Anti-Corruption Commission chairman in order to file the lawsuit. But there was no complaint [before the February 1 coup]. They filed the lawsuit only after they detained U Phyo Min Thein and it is entirely based on his account.
Upon receiving complaints, the commission will research them. If it discovers that the accused has really taken bribes, it will seize, for example, a house built with the bribe money and put it forward to the court as evidence. But there was no evidence in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s case. There will always be evidence if someone has really accepted a bribe. But in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s case, she has nothing. We even have to buy her food [as she is being detained]. She has been put on trial for corruption charges, but there is no evidence. Normally in bribery cases, there is evidence like bank accounts, buildings, cars and gold.
What would you like to say about the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s corruption trial?
That there is no evidence against her under the Anti-Corruption Law. There is only the oral statement made by U Phyo Min Thein.
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