RANGOON—An internal dispute has erupted at English-language newspaper The Myanmar Times, as the Burmese wife of the company’s majority shareholder has filed a lawsuit against Australian managing director Ross Dunkley for allegedly hitting her son-in-law during an argument.
She also accused Dunkley of trying to turn the paper into a daily publication without her permission, adding that she would block the plan. Dunkley said he would press ahead with the move regardless.
Khin Moe Moe, the wife of Dr. Tin Tun Oo, held a press conference on Tuesday during which she alleged that Dunkley had acted aggressively in an argument at the Times’ office on Monday.
“He punched my son-in-law in the face when we visited the office… He was even aggressive towards me, shouting at me in front of the staff,” Khin Moe Moe said.
She said the supposed incident was recorded on video and would be used in a lawsuit against Dunkley, which was filed at Rangoon’s Kyauktada Township police office on Tuesday. Her son-in-law was present at the conference but showed no signs of injury to his face.
Khin Moe Moe said the argument was caused by was Dunkley’s decision to turn The Myanmar Times into a daily without seeking the consent of her husband Tin Tun Oo, who owns 51 percent of the company.
“Now we block the application for publishing a daily newspaper, as there is no agreement from the director from the company [Tin Tun Oo]. After we reached compromise through negotiations, we will allow the application for a daily newspaper,” said Khin Moe Moe, who is also on the newspaper’s board of directors.
Currently, the newspaper appears only weekly, but from April the government will allow the publication of dailies.
Khin Moe Moe did not mention whether she would seek to resolve the business dispute through the court, but added that Dunkley “violated our [shareholder’s] rights. I will write letter to shareholders from the company and we should dismiss him.”
Tin Tun Oo is on a trip abroad and was not available for comment.
An hour earlier, Dunkley held his own press conference at the Times’ office to address the unfolding row.
He maintained a dispute had occurred after Khin Moe Moe tried to block the launch of a daily newspaper and had interfered in the news operations at the paper, adding that she had no authority to do so.
Dunkley said that ever since Tin Tun Oo took majority shares in the paper in 2005, he and his wife “have sometimes attempted to disrupt the activities of the newspaper.”“But their actions will not stop the daily newspaper… launch on April 1,” he said. “We have a legal dispute here, and they have acted illegally, extra-legally.”
Dunkley said it was “astounding” that Khin Moe Moe filed a lawsuit against him, adding that she had been at fault in the first place by entering into the Times’ office without authorization to “abuse our staff and defame me.”
“As a managing director I run the day-to-day operations at the company, until that situation changes I will continue to run the affairs,” he said. “As a non-executive director and shareholders she has many rights. However, she should address those concerns… at the board of directors meeting.”
Dunkley did not address the allegation that he had hit someone.
The Myanmar Times was founded in 2000 when Dunkley entered isolated, military-run Burma to set up an English-language newspaper.
He cut a deal with Burma’s hated Military Intelligence (MI) that allowed the paper to appear without passing through the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, Burma’s censorship board. However, the paper’s content was screened by the MI. Sonny Swe, a son of senior MI officer Brig-Gen Thein Swe, held majority shares in the enterprise.
Sonny Swe was arrested during a purge of the MI by junta leader Than Shwe in 2004. Tin Tun Oo, a media person with close connection to the junta, took over his shares in the Times.
After 2005, the Times also went through Burma’s censorship board. Other local publications remained subject to government censorship until early last year.
The Times employs about 300 staff, most of who are Burmese, and is 49-percent owned by an Australian company affiliated with Dunkley, who also publishes Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post.
Tuesday’s public row is not the first time that the Australian businessman has run into trouble in Burma. In June 2011, he spent 44 days in Insein Prison and he was sentenced for physically assaulting a woman and for drug-related charges. Tin Tun Oo took over as editor-in-chief of Burmese-language news at the paper after the arrest of Dunkley, who remains in charge of English-language news.
This story was updated on Jan. 30, 2012.