An executive director of a charity founded by ousted Myanmar leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said he struggled to make sense of the regime’s accusation that she used the foundation to engage in corruption, pointing out that she had given so much of her own money to it, she no longer has a place of her own or any financial possessions.
“I have to say she has almost no money of her own and doesn’t have a house to call home. She poured all she has into this foundation and others. I don’t understand how they could charge such a person with corruption,” U Moe Zaw Oo said.
The regime charged Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with corruption last week, accusing her of abusing her authority to secure land in Yangon and Naypyitaw, as well as funding, for the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a charity named after her late mother. The land in question includes the site of the charity’s Yangon headquarters and a plot housing a vocational school in Naypyitaw run by the foundation. The regime claims that irregularities in her use of the land cost the country more than 24.2 billion kyats (US$14.7 million). The related charges brought against her form just one of seven legal cases filed against the State Counselor by the junta since her arrest on Feb. 1, the day of the military coup.
The foundation was launched in 2012 to promote improvements in the health, education and living standards of the Myanmar people, especially in the country’s least developed areas. Following the coup, the foundation announced it was closing temporarily.
U Moe Zaw Oo rejected the regime’s corruption accusation against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as “inappropriate”, saying the charity is “non-commercial and for the good of the people,” adding that the suspension of the charity’s work has only had a negative impact on the public.
Until the coup, one of the causes for which the foundation accepted public donations was the funding of COVID-19 vaccinations. As of Jan. 29, two days before the military takeover, it had transferred a total of 2.5 billion kyats ($1.77 million) to the government for that purpose. The corruption charge against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came against the backdrop of a resurgence in coronavirus cases in the country. Since the coup, donations to fight the disease are unheard of due to the public’s mistrust of the regime.
“I have to ask them: If the foundation has cost the country [as the regime says], who will take responsibility for the suffering of the people and the country due to its closure?” said U Moe Zaw Oo, who now serves as the deputy minister of foreign affairs in Myanmar’s parallel National Unity Government.
The regime has also accused Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of using over 1.6 billion kyats in cash contributions from the public to build a house for herself in the compound of the Horticulture Vocational School in Naypyitaw, “contrasting with the main goals of the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation.”
U Moe Zaw Oo said the house was intended to provide the foundation chairperson with a place to live, as she has donated her residences on the shore of Inya Lake in Yangon and in the shadow of Poppa Mountain in Mandalay to the foundation. She donated her Yangon home to the foundation in 2020 after the charity’s headquarters opened next door. However, some paperwork remains to be done before it can be officially handed over to the charity, he said.
“She has almost nowhere to live upon her retirement,” he said. Until the coup, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi lived in a state-owned residence in Naypyitaw.
The foundation built the house in the Naypyitaw school compound as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has a keen interest in growing flowers and vegetables and “has decided to spend her time there [after retirement],” he said.
The foundation’s other intended use for the structure, the executive director said, was as a museum after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi dies.
“We have to make it fit for our future purposes. So her new residence includes a library for her books from her Yangon home and a gallery for paintings [she collected at the Naypyitaw residence],” he said.
He rejected the regime’s accusation that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had misused public funds, saying the donations reflected the people’s respect for her. Apart from donations to the charity, he explained that some individual donations had been made for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal use, including cash and jewelry.
But she gave it all to the foundation, he said. “In fact, they are her personal belongings,” he said.
U Moe Zaw Oo insisted that neither Daw Aung San Suu Kyi nor the foundation had ever breached official procedures in buying land in Naypyitaw or renting a place for the charity headquarters in Yangon. He said the foundation asked authorities in Yangon and Naypyitaw to lease and sell the land at “reasonable prices” as it is a non-profit organization.
The authorities processed the requests and allowed the foundation to go ahead, he said.
“We have paid what we were supposed to according to the official procedures. As far as I am concerned there was no abuse of power in those cases,” he said.
U Moe Zaw Oo believed the regime’s corruption charge against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi over the charity is the result of a personal grudge, as the foundation is apolitical and she never used it for political purposes.
“The charge won’t diminish her popularity. Instead, there will be more popular support for her,” he said.
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