Chinese Mega Project in Myanmar ‘Not Affected’ by Owner’s Arrest: Company Official

By The Irrawaddy 15 August 2022

The recent arrest of a controversial Chinese businessman by Thai police for running an illegal online casino would not have impact on his mega project and gaming venture in Myanmar, said an official from the company that is operating the project near the Thai border.

She Zhijiang was arrested in Bangkok last week. He is the subject of an international arrest warrant for allegedly running an illegal online casino, Thai police said Saturday.

Chinese and other media reports say the 40-year-old has been on the run from Chinese authorities since 2012. He has had controversial mega projects and gaming ventures in Cambodia and at Shwe Kokko in Myanmar’s Karen state, as well as a lottery venture in the Philippines.

An official from Myanmar Yatai International Co., Ltd, which is developing the Shwe Kokko project, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that he had learned about the arrest.

“It won’t have any impact on Shwe Kokko. He may be arrested for his activities in other countries,” he said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Initiated as a new city project near the Thai border in 2017, the US$15-billion project is a collaboration between the BGF—a Myanmar military-backed armed group led by Colonel Chit Thu formerly known as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA)—and a Hong Kong-registered company, Yatai International Holding Group (IHG). Myanmar Yatai International Co., Ltd is registered in Myanmar as a collaboration between IHG and Chit Lin Myaning, a company run by the Karen Border Guard Force (BGF) active in the Shwe Kokko area near Myawaddy Township in Myanmar’s Karen State. She Zhijiang is the chairman of Yatai Group.

A hotel in Shwe Kokko in 2019 / The Irrawaddy

However it was halted and investigated by the National League for Democracy (NLD) government in 2019 due to a lack of transparency, land confiscations, confusion over the scale of construction and the growing influx of Chinese money as well as suspected illicit activity involving casino businesses. The Chinese Embassy in Yangon expressed support for Myanmar’s move to investigate the irregularities.

In 2020, however, Yatai IHG’s management continued its gambling operations in the new city, which was only partially finished, in spite of a coronavirus lockdown. That year, both Thai and Chinese citizens were arrested in Mae Sot by Thai border police after entering Thailand illegally. Those arrested confessed to having worked at casinos within Shwe Kokko. Their testimony indicates that both online and traditional casinos are still operating in Karen State.

Colonel Chit Thu told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the new city project is currently halted. He couldn’t say exactly how it would be affected by the arrest of She.

“I think he was arrested for what he was involved in before the Shwe Kokko project,” the colonel said.

When asked about gambling in the new city, he said Shwe Kokko is not a gambling city.

“We only have a little casino venue,” he said.

Interpol issued a red notice for She in May 2021. He faces criminal charges in China related to running a casino and could face a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, AFP reported.

Between January 2018 and February 2021, She — who heads up a “criminal gang” — colluded with others to register companies, and research and develop online gambling platforms, the red notice says.

The notice adds that online gambling websites including Hongshulin, Yigou and Yiyou International were set up and 330,000 gamblers were recruited.