YANGON – Police last week detained two people in connection with last month’s record drug haul in Malaysia, which was believed to have been shipped from Myanmar, customs agents told The Irrawaddy.
The detention by anti-narcotics police of a married couple — one of them the owner of the Nice Guy Clearance Service Agency in Yangon and the other the director of the U Kaung Trading Company — occurred prior to Tuesday’s arrest in Mandalay Division of Haj Yassin (also known as Maung Maung) in connection with the case, they said.
The customs agents, who are close to Nice Guy Clearance Service Agency, told The Irrawaddy the couple is being held for questioning in Yangon. According to a police statement issued Wednesday, Seik Kan Myo Ma police station on June 2 opened a case against the suspects on multiple charges that carry unlimited imprisonment terms or the death penalty. This was followed by the apprehension of Haj Yassin in Mandalay.
The police statement named the companies with which the couple is involved but not the individual suspects. It was thanks to information they supplied that anti-narcotics police were able to arrest Haj Yassin at a checkpoint on the Pyin Oo Lwin-Mandalay Highway on Tuesday and transfer him to Yangon. On the same day, police remanded Haj Yassin and sent him to a mental hospital.
The Irrawaddy has learned that Nice Guy Clearance Agency is owned by U Min Naing, and that his wife, Daw Thida Moe, serves as director of U Kaung Trading Company, which also provides trading firms with customs and port document processing services. U Kaung Trading Company was registered at the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) in 2012 with U Aung Zay Yar Oo and U Thar Oo named as inactive directors. The DICA records show the company’s business license expired in 2013. U Aung Soe Moe is believed to be acting as managing director and Daw Thida Moe as director of the company.
Based on DICA’s records and a copy of Daw Thida Moe’s business card seen by The Irrawaddy, two reporters from The Irrawaddy on Thursday visited U Kaung Trading Company located in Kyauktada (lower block) in an effort to confirm the arrests. About five to seven employees were seen working on documents, many in manila files clearly marked “U Kaung Trading” in English. There were no banners or other signage on the exterior of the building identifying the premises as housing the offices of U Kaung Trading or Nice Guy Purified Water (a firm related to Nice Guy Clearance Agency) in front of the building or apartment.
Some customs agents working at the office told The Irrawaddy that their boss Daw Thida Moe had not been to the office this week, but declined to provide further details. Attempts to call two mobile phone numbers for Daw Thida Moe reached devices that were switched off. Pictures uploaded by individuals named U Min Naing and Daw Thida Moe on Facebook indicate that the latter also acts as the owner of the Nice Guy purified drinking water factory in Hlegu Township.
A Ministry of Home Affairs statement did not mention customs agent U Min Naing, his wife Daw Thida Moe or U Kaung Trading Managing Director U Aung Soe Moe by name. They simply referred to “accomplices” of Haj Yassin, adding that they are still investigating the suspected drug trafficking ring.
Workers at the Nice Guy factory also said that their boss had not shown up for several days. Factory manager Myo Zar Ni said, “I have nothing to say about my boss.” He strongly denied a statement by police alleging that Haj Yassin had stored a large quantity of drugs at the factory and transported them in a Kia Bongo vehicle to a warehouse in lower Pazundaung. According to the manager, the Nice Guy factory had been open for a few years, and he had been working there for about four months.
According to the police report, suspected drug dealer Haj Yassin, 44, a resident of Tarmwe’s Nat Mauk quarter, contacted U Kaung Trading about exporting goods in container Log No. FSCU 9911521, in which nearly 1.2 tons of illegal narcotics were loaded, disguised as packages of tea. Malaysian police estimated the narcotics had a street value of USD18 million, making it the largest seizure in the country’s history. It is unclear whether the narcotics were packed into the tea packages at the Nice Guy factory or at the lower Pazundaung facility.
Kaung Trading Company, the Nice Guy Customs Clearance agency and the Nice Guy factory are owned by U Min Naing’s family. It is unclear how or why Haj Yassin, a Muslim whose family’s origins lie in northern Rakhine State, came to be storing tons of illegal drugs in a factory owned by a Yangon Buddhist family like that of U Min Naing.
Myanmar Army clearance operations in response to deadly Rohingya insurgent attacks in August 2017 have caused nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. The UN Security Council has described the resulting mass devastation as “ethnic cleansing” and urged Myanmar authorities to allow a credible investigation into alleged rights violations in Rakhine.
According to a post on Facebook by social influencer Aung Naing Htwe, who has at least 190,000 followers, a suspect named Aung Zaw Win, 55, who owns the SHINE construction company and was arrested at Yangon International Airport in March for allegedly funding the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (a Rohingya Muslim insurgent group), has close ties with Haj Yassin. Aung Zaw Win is currently detained at Buthidaung Prison awaiting trial. He secured a spot on the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)’s ticket in the 2010 election for Maungdaw Township but resigned from the party after then-president Thein Sein revoked Rohingyas’ “white cards”, temporary election documents which would have allowed them to vote in the election in that year.
Police have not elaborated on the background of Haj Yassin, or whether he is genuinely involved in either the trading or construction businesses.
The Irrawaddy found two Facebook accounts with the name Haj Yassin, one with a profile picture showing a house and one with a profile showing a car. The account with the car as a profile picture has around 1,020 “friends”, while the other one has only 180. Two Facebook account holders named U Min Naing and Haj Yassin are friends on Facebook and have commented on each other’s pages periodically since 2015. Some netizens strongly criticized the omission of the suspects’ names from the police statement and questioned how tons of drugs could be stored at a drinking water factory and then successfully clear X-ray checks and other shipping procedures. The container was loaded on the Pathein Star vessel, which entered Myanmar Industrial Port (MIP) during the Myanmar Water Festival period. It departed on April 16 and arrived at Klang Multi-Terminal, a port in Selangor, Malaysia on April 19.
The anti-narcotics police officer who is handling the operation could not be reached for comment on Friday.