Former Spokesman Slams Critics for Trivial Coffee Shop Controversy

By The Irrawaddy 3 June 2016

RANGOON — Ex-President Thein Sein’s former spokesperson slammed his old boss’s critics for focusing too much on what, to him, is a trivial coffee shop controversy.

While he is no longer an official mouthpiece for the government, Ye Htut, who was formerly information minister, on Thursday voluntarily defended the heated ownership of a new coffee shop in Naypyidaw, Golden Farm, rumored to be owned by Burma’s former head of state.

Ye Htut said that even if the coffee shop belongs to Thein Sein, it is a matter that has not warranted the vitriol it has received, given that other people in the country, particularly some senior military officials, have for decades made their riches by conducting business under their children’s names, securing government tenders and engaging in land grabs.

“Criticizing U Thein Sein’s ownership of a coffee shop is like chasing rabbits instead of hunting elephants,” Ye Htut said during a sideline interview at a press conference in Naypyidaw held to discuss the recent implication that Thein Sein has misused funds.

The former spokesman’s comments came after pictures of the coffee shop were widely circulated among Burmese Facebook users, many of who claimed that it was owned by Thein Sein because of its location in a compound where Burma’s ex-president owns a private farm.

Ye Htut believes that Thein Sein has faced more personal attacks since he stepped down from the presidency in March and once again assumed chairmanship of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), citing the coffee shop controversy as an example.

“Throughout [Thein Sein’s] career—from regional commander [in the military] to secretary of the former military regime to prime minister to president—his three children have never carried out business by using their father’s power. Despite his clean record, news like this is spreading about him. I think this is political assassination against him,” Ye Htut said.

A source close to Thein Sein said the coffee shop is run by a local confectionary chain located on the former President’s land.