Myanmar Junta Crony Plays Key Role in Arms Purchases From Ukraine

By The Irrawaddy 29 September 2021

Myanmar’s crony league welcomed new members when current coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing succeeded former dictator Senior General Than Shwe as the military chief in 2011, with relatives and business associates of newly promoted generals joining the elite.

Among those new kids on the block,  U Aung Hlaing Oo, a businessman who runs Myanmar Chemical & Machinery Co. (MCM), serves as an arms dealer helping Myanmar’s military to procure the machinery, equipment and technology needed to manufacture sophisticated weapons.

U Aung Hlaing Oo plays a major role in the Myanmar military’s arms procurement from Ukraine, and was appointed by the Eastern European country in early 2017 as an honorary consul in Myanmar. He has accompanied Myanmar military leaders including Snr-Gen Ming Aung Hlaing on numerous trips to Russia.

He is a central figure in the plan to set up a plant in Myanmar that would produce BTR-4 armored personnel carriers, MMT-40 tanks and 2SIU self-propelled howitzers both for domestic use and export.

The planned factory is a joint partnership between the Myanmar military’s Directorate of Defense Industries; Ukrainian state-owned arms conglomerate Ukroboronprom; state arms trading company Ukrspecexport; and U Aung Hlaing Oo’s MCM, according to Justice for Myanmar (JFM), a group of activists that monitors the military’s businesses and its networks.

JFM said a large number of Ukrspecexport shipments were made to Amethyst Trading, an MCM subsidiary, involving tank parts in 2018 and armoured recovery vehicle parts in 2019.

U Aung Hlaing Oo has personal ties with Lieutenant General Nyo Saw, who retired as the chairman of Myanmar Economic Corporation, a Myanmar military-owned business conglomerate, in May last year,  a businessman close to him told The Irrawaddy.

Lt-Gen Nyo Saw graduated with the 23rd intake of the Defense Services Academy and has served as the commandant of the Defense Services Academy and the Defence Services Technological Academy, and as commander of the Central Command and Southern Command. He is a confidant of Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

“He [U Aung Hlaing Oo] is very friendly and is a good talker. He keeps a low profile. And when he makes business appointments, he usually meets his guests at the Yangon Gallery opened by U Aung Pyae Sone [the elder son of Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing],” the businessman said.

U Aung Hlaing Oo has also helped procure parts from Ukraine and Serbia to assemble, repair and upgrade BTR-4U and BTR-3U armored personnel carriers and MMT-40 tanks in Myanmar.

In 2016-17, Ukrainian arms manufacturers shipped parts for Mil Mi-2 and Mil Mi-17 helicopters, BTR-3U armored personnel carriers, a ship engine, and ship propulsion and radar systems through U Aung Hlaing Oo’s MCM Pacific Co. based in Singapore, according to JFM.

In addition to its business in Ukraine, MCM also procures arms from Serbia for the Myanmar military. A 2019 MCM proposal for the Myanmar Air Force, leaked to Justice For Myanmar, details aircraft-mounted rocket launchers, rockets, free-fall bombs, a multiple bomb launcher for use “on large surfaces” and fuses.

JFM’s report quotes a private sector source with military connections as saying that U Aung Hlaing Oo receives commissions of 20-30 percent on arms sales from Ukraine, “which amount to substantial profits for his businesses and the Ukrainian state.”

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