Burmese Tycoon Gives Back After Land Grabs

By May Sitt Paing, Reform 7 June 2013

CHAUNG THA, Irrawaddy Division—More than 50 acres of paddy fields confiscated by the Max Myanmar Group for shrimp farming will be given back to farmers in southwest Burma, according to a director of the conglomerate.

Max Myanmar, owned by one of Burma’s most notorious business tycoons, has finished the shrimp farming project and already notified the Irrawaddy divisional government that it will return the land, according to Max Myanmar director San Oo, who said the group had also notified a parliamentary commission that investigates land grabs.

Zaw Zaw, the 45-year-old owner of Max Myanmar, made a fortune thanks in part to his connections under the former military regime. Now, as the country opens economically to the international community, he is revamping his image in a bid to attract more global investment, with revenue at his group of companies reportedly set to double.

Max Myanmar will return about 54 acres of farmland that it confiscated from 21 farmers in 2002, according to a letter dated in April that it sent to the divisional administration.

Zaw Zaw, who is originally from Irrawaddy Division, said he felt sympathy for the former owners because they had struggled to earn a living and wanted to return to their land.

“Some owners want compensation, while others want to have their farmland back. So we decided that transferring the land back was the best option,” said San Oo. “We will do so via governmental departments.”

Max Myanmar has reportedly already provided compensation of 44,000 kyats ($46) per acre for the confiscated land. The group of companies said it had also given an additional 70 million kyats to 13 local residents who lost 106 acres of farmland near Ngwe Saung Beach.

There are a total of 166 cases of confiscated farmland in Irrawaddy Division, including more than 60 cases in the division capital of Bassein. The land-grab cases in Chaung Than Province and Shwe Thaung Yan region are being heard in court, according to the parliamentary investigation commission looking into the cases.

Irrawaddy Division has seen more land grabs than any other division in the country, with hundreds of thousands of acres seized, according to the commission. This week, farmers from eight townships in the division tried to claim back paddy fields they had lost in a land grab.

Zaw Zaw’s business interests span a range of industries, including hotels, construction, jade mining, coal mining, cement factories, banking, fuel and consumer goods.

Last year he was among the investors for the Dawei deep seaport project in south Burma, a joint-venture between Burma and Thailand. After leaving that project, he created the Ayeyarwady Foundation for philanthropy and began offering loans to farmers.