Myanmar Junta Jails ex-General Who Served in NLD Govt Over Corruption Allegation

By The Irrawaddy 15 March 2022

Former Brigadier General Thura U Aung Ko, who served as the minister for religious affairs and culture under the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government, was sentenced to 12 years in prison with labor for alleged corruption on Monday.

The regime filed four counts of corruption against the minister under Section 55 of the Anti-Corruption Law after accusing him of accepting bribes from a businessman and abusing his position of power to confer Buddhist titles on laypersons.

The regime alleged that U Aung Ko accepted 40 million kyats (US$22,522) from individuals in return for Sāsanānuggaha titles—titles conferred on those who make significant contributions to the promotion of Buddhism. He was also accused of accepting a luxury car and a gold plate weighing 20 ticals (326.6 grams).

The former brigadier general was a long-time member of the Central Executive Committee of the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). He was appointed deputy minister of religious affairs under the former military regime and was a Lower House USDP lawmaker during the Thein Sein administration.

U Aung Ko, who is known to be close to former General Shwe Mann, a close ally of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was appointed as religious affairs minister in the NLD government following the party’s landslide victory in the 2015 general election. He is also said to be close to NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

He was given three years for each of four corruption charges, for a total of 12 years. U Aung Ko, in his capacity as the religious affairs minister, abolished the Association for Protection of Race and Religion, a pro-military nationalist group better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha. During the U Thein Sein government the group successfully lobbied for the approval of a controversial set of four laws on race and religion that imposed restrictions on interfaith marriage, birth spacing, polygamy and conversion, believed to be targeted at Muslims. It later clashed with the NLD government, however, and in May 2017 the state-backed cleric organization Ma Ha Na announced that Ma Ba Tha was an unlawful organization and banned it from operating under that name. The group has since rebranded itself as the Buddha Dhamma Charity Foundation.

Since seizing power on Feb. 1 last year, the regime has arrested most of the NLD’s leaders—including State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint—as well as senior party members including government officials and ministers. To keep them behind bars, the regime has charged the detained officials with an array of offenses including breaching COVID-19 rules and the Official Secrets Act, as well as high treason and incitement to corruption.

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