Qatari telecom Ooredoo’s operation in Myanmar is now de facto owned by Zaw Win Shein, a military crony and the adopted son of a general who served as a minister in the military proxy Thein Sein administration, which ran Myanmar from 2011 to early 2016.
Ooredoo Group announced on Sept. 8 the sale of its telecom business in Myanmar to Nine Communications Pte. Ltd. at an enterprise value of US$576 million.
Nine Communications is a Singapore-based subsidiary of Link Family Office and Nyan Win.
While details about Link Family Office are unknown, according to data from the Directorate of Investment and Company Registration, Nyan Win is a director of Horizon Telecom International Company Limited based in Myanmar. Two other directors of that telecom company are Ne Ne Hlawn Moe and Ye Myat Soe.
Ne Ne Hlwam Moe is the managing director of Ayeyar Hinthar Construction Co. Ltd, and Ye Myat Soe, who has been the CEO of Horizon Telecom, is also the managing director of A Bank.
A Bank and Ayeyar Hinthar Construction are businesses of Ayeyar Hinthar Holdings Company Limited, which is owned by Zaw Win Shein, according to the companies’ websites.
Zaw Win Shein is an adoptive son of Soe Maung, who was a key President’s Office minister when the military proxy Thein Sein administration was in power. Soe Maung is a retired major general and also a former judge advocate-general.
The Thein Sein government was replaced by a civilian government led by the NLD in 2016. Soe Maung founded the Democratic Party of National Politics (DNP) in 2019 with other retired generals and contested in the 2020 general election. He was also a close confidant of former military regime leader Than Shwe and a member of the military commission that drafted the 2008 Constitution.
According to business circles familiar with Zaw Win Shein and his conglomerate, Ayeyar Hinthar group’s capital mainly came from Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, who is a former general and vice president during the Thein Sein administration; when the group was established in 2006, it was widely reported to be an asset of Naing Lin Oo, a former military captain who is the son of Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo. An executive committee member of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry confirmed this. Naing Lin Oo and his wife Hnin Yee Mon are on a UK list of financial sanctions.
When the country entered a so-called democratic transition after a quasi-civilian government emerged in 2011, the transparency of the private sector was promoted and Ayeyar Hinthar group became Ayeyar Hinthar Holding. It is known as a conglomerate owned and operated by crony Zaw Win Shein.
Some of the leading businesspeople in Myanmar wondered how a conglomerate owned by Zaw Win Shein can afford half of a billion dollars to buy a telecom operator like Ooredoo during such a chaotic time, and suspected there could be unknown and/or invisible investors behind him.
“It is very risky to invest in such a big telecom during these days of economic decline. There might be some other investors behind it, even if it is publicly and officially bought by Ayeyar Hinthar,” said a businessman who is also a chair of a group of companies in Myanmar’s automobile industry.
The Ayeyar Hinthar group has engaged in several businesses with the Myanmar military. In one notorious example, it acts as a proxy company for the military at the Y Complex project in Yangon.
The Y Complex is built on land belonging to the Myanmar military, and, according to a copy of the lease revealed to the public by Justice for Myanmar, the money for the rent flows to the Quartermaster General’s office via a proxy company.
On March 20, 2021, French energy giant Électricité de France (EDF) suspended a hydropower project worth more than $1.5 billion in Myanmar’s Shan State over human rights concerns as the military regime continues to use lethal force to crack down on anti-coup protesters across the country then.
Électricité de France notified human rights groups that it has halted development of the Shweli-3 Project, including the activities of its subcontractors. Led by EDF, the 671 MW project was being jointly developed with a Japanese company and locally owned Ayeyar Hinthar.
“Now, Myanmar citizens have no choice at all as all the operators here in the country are owned or are still fully or de facto managed by the military regime, and also now, there is no operator too who would defend our rights to privacy,” said a female poet activist who has also been working for digital freedom.