Former Labor Attaché on Trial for Corruption Attacks Irrawaddy Photographer

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 6 February 2020

YANGON—Former Myanmar labor attaché U San Maung Oo, currently facing a lawsuit for corruption, attacked an Irrawaddy photographer as he was being escorted by police and relatives from a hearing at Yangon Regional Court on Wednesday.

The Irrawaddy’s photographer, Ko Htet Wai, was kicked in his hand by U San Maung Oo as he tried to take a photo of the labor attaché in a public area outside the Yangon Regional Courthouse.

U San Maung Oo was wearing a full mask and covered by an umbrella on Wednesday as he was taken out of the court by his relatives and a police guard.

He was then transported to prison in a Toyota Alphard minivan. Most detainees are taken to prison in a prisoner transport vehicle.

”I understand that we have the right to take photos in the public area. He is the subject of a high-profile corruption case,” said Ko Htet Wai.

The incident was captured on a local TV news broadcast, in which the former labor attaché can be seen kicking someone in front of him as he walks from the court house to the vehicle.

Ko Htet Wai said that he sustained only a minor injury to his hand, though the photographer noted that the police escort had failed to prevent the detainee attacking him.

The photographer verbally reported the incident to the Yangon Regional Court and the Myanmar Press Council.

At a court hearing on Dec. 24, 2019, the former labor attaché angrily scolded Irrawaddy reporter Ma Lei Lei, telling her that reporters are not allowed to report news in the court, despite the fact that she was there with the permission of the court.

The wife of the labor attaché also told Ma Lei Lei that reporters are not allowed to write stories based on their observations in court.

The mother of the labor attaché also targeted a reporter for a local media outlet at a court hearing on Jan. 21.

Myanmar labor attaché U San Maung Oo wears a mask while sitting in a minivan waiting to be sent to prison on Feb. 5, 2020. / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

”We want to urge all courts and those concerned to protect the right to information according to the laws for reporters,” said U Ye Ni, editor of The Irrawaddy Burmese Edition.

Ko Zayar Hlaing of the Myanmar Press Council told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the organizations and people responsible for rules and regulations, such as the police, should prevent this kind of lawless behavior. He added that journalists are doing their job by providing news to the public and are exercising their right to information.

U San Maung Oo was charged by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of Myanmar in November 2019 over claims he took thousands of bribes.

He has been accused of asking for about 4.4 million Thai baht (US$144,000) from 28 Myanmar overseas employment agencies in exchange for approving labor demand letters and for sending workers to recruitment agencies in Thailand.

U San Maung Oo collected 100 baht from agencies for each worker he sent to the agencies and also took bribes from the employment agencies through his assistants, U Than Htike Soe and U Saw Pyae Nyein, while he worked as leader of the Myanmar labor attaché office in Bangkok from December 2017 until August 2019.

U San Maung Oo and his assistants were sued by the ACC under Article 46 of the Anti-Corruption Act after more than 20 Myanmar overseas employment agencies reported the issues to the ACC, the Myanmar President’s Office, the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population and the parliamentary committee on labor affairs in mid-2019.

Anyone convicted under Article 46 of the Anti-Corruption Act faces up to 10 years in prison or a fine.

The two assistants to the former labor attaché have fled the charges and evaded arrest.

Employment agencies told the media in May 2019 that the Bangkok-based Labor Attaché Office was delaying documentation for workers until the agencies paid the bribes.

At that time, U San Maung Oo told the media that he had already explained the situation to the government’s inspectors and he was ready to accept any official inspection.

While he was head of the office, up to 20,000 Myanmar workers were recruited by agencies to work in Thailand each month.

The plaintiff for the ACC said at a court hearing on Jan. 28 that the former labor attaché and his wife opened more than 50 bank accounts in Myanmar and Thailand and may have been transferring money between them.

Video: Irrawaddy photographer Htet Wai being kicked by former labor attaché U San Maung Oo
outside of the Yangon Regional Courthouse on Feb. 5, 2020.

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