Myanmar Times Co-Founder Ross Dunkley Jailed for 13 Years in Drugs Case

By Moe Myint 7 August 2019

YANGON—After a trial lasting more than a year, Australian national Ross Dunkley, the co-founder of the Myanmar Times newspaper, and his compatriot John Mckenzie, a former IFC and World Bank adviser, were sentenced to 13 years in prison by a Yangon judge on Tuesday for violating Myanmar’s anti-narcotics law.

The two foreigners were apprehended in possession of a large quantity of crystal methamphetamine (or “ice”), marijuana and heroin at Dunkley’s apartment in Bahan Township in June 2018. Five young Myanmar women and Dunkley’s housekeeper and security guard were also arrested and charged at the Western District Court by Yangon police.

The Western District Court’s press officer confirmed that the two foreigners were sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment while the five women were jailed for 11 years.

The court freed Dunkley’s housekeeper and security guard in July 2018. The five women, aged between 19 and 29, were identified as Ma Hanni Soe, Ma Win Win, Ma Haymar Lwin, Ma Thuzar and Ma Hnin Ei Khine. All seven drug suspects were charged under sections 19(a) and 21 of the anti-narcotics law.

The Irrawaddy learned that Ma Hanni Soe was Dunkley’s girlfriend at the time of their arrests, based on posts on their Facebook accounts.

Dunkley jointly established the Myanmar Times in 2000 with U Sonny Swe, the son of a senior military intelligence (MI) officer, Brigadier-General Thein Swe, with the permission of the country’s then spy chief, General Khin Nyunt. Under the military regime, foreign investment in Myanmar was extremely difficult and enmeshed in red tape.

Known as the “prince of evil”, Military Intelligence (MI) chief Gen. Khin Nyunt was infamous among political prisoners in Myanmar for his brutality toward detainees. When the MI chief was purged by dictator Senior General Than Shwe in 2004, the Myanmar Times also lost favor.

The following year, U Sonny Swe—who is now the owner of Frontier Myanmar magazine—was sentenced to more than a decade in prison for breeching Myanmar’s censorship laws, which were officially abolished in 2012.

Dunkley was ousted from the Myanmar Times when a new owner took over. The driving force behind the publication is now publisher Pepsi U Thein Tun. The paper now has both Myanmar and English-language versions.

Looking to make a fresh start in the local media industry, Dunkley returned to Myanmar in 2017 with a project named “Beyond the Box Communications.” In a Mediaweek article, Dunkley said the team he had assembled at the agency included My Magical Myanmar’s owner, who is the wife of Frontier founder; Glen Felgate, formerly of CTN Cambodia; former chief government censor U Tint Swe of the Ministry of Information; and McKenzie.

In 2011, Dunkley was sentenced to prison for about one month for drugging and assaulting a Myanmar woman at his Inya Road home. He was freed shortly after his conviction for time served.