RANGOON — At one time, the Myanmar Gems Traders Association had €93 million (US$103.9 million) in its bank account. But, now, all that money is gone, and the scandal over where it went is poised to embroil former President Thein Sein.
On Thursday, 81 members of the Myanmar Gems Traders Association held a press conference in Rangoon, calling on the Ministry of Resources and Environmental Conservation and the managing director of the state-run Myanmar Gems Enterprise to address the so-far unexplained loss of €93 million from the association’s coffers.
Kyaw Kyaw Oo, central executive committee member of Myanmar Gems Traders Association, told reporters that they have been awaiting the conclusions of the state-run Myanmar Gems Enterprise’s investigation team, which began looking into the affair in late May.
“We don’t want the auditors’ report. We want to see the analysis of how, where and why the chairman of the association, U Yone Mu, spent the money,” Kyaw Kyaw Oo said.
Starting in early May, some members of the association reported approximately €93 million had been embezzled from the association’s account, accusing Yone Mu of misappropriating funds.
Kyaw Kyaw Oo and several member companies submitted a letter to the Shwe Mann-led Legal Issues and Special Cases Committee in May stating members contributed 1 percent of their incomes to the association annually and had the right to know how the money was managed and spent.
“Knowing why the chairman collected those fees from us and how he spent the money is important because there are many ways to spend so much money,” he said.
He claimed that Yone Mu put €6 million (US$6.7 million) into a bank account in his own name, gave €1.6 million (US$1.8 million) to a project run by a company he was affiliated with to repair a highway in a jade mining region in Kachin State, purchased machinery for jade operations and spent €2 million (US$2.2 million) on the Shwe Kyarpin gems sales and service project in Naypyidaw.
Additionally, Kyaw Kyaw Oo singled out Thein Sein, the former president and current chairman of Burma’s main opposition party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party.
“U Win Htein, the leader of the investigation team, told me that €1 million (more than US$1.1 million) was taken from the association and given to U Thein Sein, and another €6 million was contributed [to the ex-president’s project] by gems traders,” Kyaw Kyaw Oo said. “But we want something more conclusive to see whether [Win Htein’s] claims are true.”
On May 23, Win Htein’s team began investigating the chairman of association, the managing director of Myanmar Gems Enterprise and other members of the association.
“We are encouraging the investigation team to seek the assistance of parliamentarians, legal experts and other outsiders to make sure their conclusions are impartial,” Kyaw Kyaw Oo said.
Meanwhile, in Naypyidaw, former government officials sought to head off the brewing scandal.
Former head of the now-defunct Ministry of Mining Myint Aung said at a press conference in the capital that the fees the association collected were used for corporate social responsibility activities and the two annual gems emporiums, emphasizing that these projects had been above-board and approved by the minister and association members.
Myint Aung made a particular effort to clear up the accusations against Thein Sein.
The €1 million supposedly given to the former president was actually put into a bank account held by the Myanmar Art Center, a nonprofit in Rangoon, he claimed, adding that the money was used for the construction of a new building for the art center.
After the press conference in Nay Pyi Daw, Ye Htut, the former Minister of Information, told reporters the whole controversy had deeper motives.
“This is more than simple infighting,” Ye Htut said. “This is an attempt at political assassination against U Thein Sein.”
However, the Gems Traders Association’s Kyaw Kyaw Oo responded, saying, “This is not about political assassination—this is just an internal dispute.”