RANGOON – The owner of Rangoon’s Orchid Hotel, U Htay Aung, on Saturday accused the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism’s permanent secretary U Yee Mon of demanding 10 million Kyats (US$7,402) from him in exchange for a recommendation letter to banks regarding the provision of loans.
U Htay Aung had a 15-year lease to operate the Nan Myaing Hotel in Pyin Oo Lwin, which is owned by Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, and had applied to build an extension to the structure in 2016. In June of last year, he asked for a recommendation letter from the tourism ministry—a document that U Htay Aung hoped would serve as a guarantee for the bank in order to fund the extension.
The hotelier said he was asked to provide 10 million kyats to U Yee Mon and an undisclosed amount to lower level tourism ministry officials.
U Htay Aung agreed to the deal and withdrew 16.7 million kyats from the bank. However, cracks in the relationship began to show once the permanent secretary took on a supervisory role regarding the Nan Myaing project, U Htay Aung said.
“[U Yee Mon] pointed out small things [that were wrong] and we faced the challenge of continuing the project with many restrictions,” he explained.
Although U Htay Aung said he had already successfully negotiated loans with two of Burma’s biggest commercial banks, Kanbawza and Ayarwady, the ministry canceled the extension project for the Nan Myaing hotel within weeks of the permanent secretary’s approval.
U Htay Aung said he then complained to the State Counselor’s Office, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, as well as the Anti-Corruption Commission’s office in March of this year, explaining how he felt that the permanent secretary had misused his power.
“I know I was guilty as well, for giving him a bribe,” U Htay Aung said, adding that because he had engaged in the transaction, he felt he “deserved” the unfortunate turn of events.
Weeks later, he said he received death threats over the phone at the Orchid Hotel and that he—a Muslim—was called racist names by the caller.
“The caller said they could kill me anywhere. It would not cost more than 10 million kyats. And then, I told him, ‘don’t shoot me like U Ko Ni—give me a shot in the middle of the forehead,’” U Htay Aung said, a reference to the assassination of the National League for Democracy’s legal adviser, who was murdered in January after he was shot from behind, in the back of the head, outside Rangoon International Airport.
U Htay Aung added that he had been planning to hold a press conference in Naypyidaw in recent months, but that the efforts had not been successful. He then spoke publicly about what he described as the ministry’s “blackmailing” in his own Orchid Hotel in Rangoon on June 3.
After speaking to the media on Saturday, he reportedly heard that the tourism ministry had hired legal consultants in order to file charges against him.
“I won’t regret my conduct and I am expecting the worst,” said U Htay Aung.
The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism published a statement on Monday evening, but did not address U Htay Aung’s allegations of bribery. Instead, it said that the Nan Myaing Hotel was a state-owned building, and that the company that leased it in 2013—National Trading Co. Ltd., owned by U Htay Aung—had fallen behind on payments and was required to repay its debt.
“The company hid its violations, blamed the ministry and complained about the officials and departments which could determine the case,” the statement said, adding that the ministry would obtain its remaining rental fees from the company.
The Irrawaddy phoned the director-general of the tourism ministry, U Tint Thwin, on Monday but there was no answer, and reporters also were unable to reach permanent secretary U Yee Mon for comment at the time of reporting.
This article was edited to correct the amount given to U Yee Mon from 16.7 million Kyats to 10 million Kyats.