RANGOON — Outgoing lawmaker and Shwe Mann ally Maung Maung Thein has hit back at a bombshell expose of Burma’s jade industry, denying that he and his family were involved in the lucrative trade.
October’s Global Witness report alleged the former general and junta-era minister had a controlling interest in two jade mining companies operating in the jade-rich Kachin State township of Hpakant, with both companies netting a combined US$142 million at Burma’s 2013-14 jade emporiums.
Explaining that “silence is a sort of admission”, Maung Maung Thein called a press conference on Friday to deny any involvement in the companies, saying that Global Witness had misrepresented his son Nay Aung’s involvement in the Myo Nwe jade mining company.
‘‘Their accusations are groundless and one sided,” he said. “My son Nay Aung is working as a staff member.”
In its report, Global Witness cited information from Maung Maung Thein’s profile on the Union Parliament website, which listed Nay Aung as a director of Myo Nwe.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday evening, Nay Aung said his company was working in a joint venture with the Burmese government and denied allegations he had hired police and military personnel to police the mine’s operations.
“I am working as a geologist and I don’t know the profits of the company,” he said.
Nay Aung had declined to comment when asked by Global Witness, prior to the report’s publication, whether his father was the owner of the Myo Nwe and Myat Yamon companies.
Maung Maung Thein was formerly the general secretary of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) until his ouster in mid-August, as a faction of the party loyal to President Thein Sein moved to oust party chairman Shwe Mann and his allies from USDP leadership positions.
According to an estimation of official sales by Global Witness, Maung Maung Thein and his family have profited exorbitantly from the jade trade, behind only former dictator Than Shwe, the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and the Ever Winner Group of Companies.
Maung Maung Thein is the first person named in the report to issue a public response. When asked by The Irrawaddy on Friday if he had any involvement with other companies, military interests and junta-era luminaries involved in the jade trade, he emphatically replied that he was “not related with these groups”.
“I can’t answer that question, don’t make a dilemma for me please,” he said.
Based on 12 months of research, the Global Witness report estimates that Burma’s jade production was valued as high as US$31 billion in 2014, a figure that vastly overshadows the country’s other major resource earners, including natural gas exports.