Home Affairs Ministry Investigates Alleged Currency Manipulators

By Htet Naing Zaw 25 September 2018

NAYPYITAW — The Bureau of Special Investigation under the Home Affairs Ministry has interrogated as of Monday some currency and gold dealers on Yangon’s Shwebontha Street who are believed to be involved in the manipulation of dollar prices.

“We are examining their dealings. I cannot say how many dealers we are investigating because it is an ongoing case. We are investigating according to the instruction of upper-level authorities,” bureau director U Aung Myo told The Irrawaddy.

President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said at a press conference in Naypyitaw on Friday that there are only a few currency dealers who make “hollow transactions of the greenback” to manipulate the market. The transactions he refers to are similar to the concept of no-interest credit—buying only verbally without paying the cash.

The government is conducting an investigation and will then take appropriate action, he said.

The exchange rate fell from more than 1,600 kyats per US dollar to around 1,590 kyats per dollar on Monday evening. However, the price of gold remains at more than 1 million kyats per tical—a drastic increase from around 930,000 kyats per tical in January.

U Aung Myo declined to comment on what actions would be taken against the currency dealers.

One currency dealer said there are fewer than 10 big currency dealers in the commercial capital and some of them also trade with Mandalay. The total value of hollow transactions of the US dollar in the market could be millions per day, he said.

“Of course, the manipulators should be interrogated. But that is not the solution. If the kyat does strengthen, it will just be temporary. The right solution is to boost exports,” said Yangon-based businessman Dr. Soe Tun.

The suspension of issuing re-export licenses is also a temporary solution, he said, as the government has suspended issuing these licenses to bring down the dollar value in the past.

“The detention and investigation will let the kyat appreciate for a while, but then it will weaken again. It is just a temporary solution and will not solve the problem,” he said.

Fuel prices have increased due to a weakening exchange rate and people have had to spend more on basic foods as well, Yangon resident U Ye Naing Win complained.

“What some eight currency dealers have done has affected the whole country. The manipulators will play the market and stop for a while when authorities interrogate them. Then they will play again. Heavy penalties should be imposed against them so that they dare not manipulate the market again,” he said.

The Central Bank of Myanmar, the government agency primarily responsible for the monetary and financial matters of the country, has not commented on the depreciation of the kyat and has avoided media interviews.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.