RANGOON — The gunman who shot and killed National League for Democracy (NLD) lawyer U Ko Ni on Sunday was hired by a person named Myint Swe, according to a leaked police document.
“The document was leaked when it was shared among police officers on Viber,” admitted a senior police official, who confirmed that the information in the document was accurate.
The police document contains a five-page statement made by 54-year-old gunman Kyi Lin, who told police that he was approached by a man named Myint Swe, whom he met for the first time in September in Mae Sot.
“He asked me to kill a Kalar for a car,” Kyi Lin is quoted in the police document, using a derogatory term for a Muslim person. He added that Myint Swe showed him a photograph of U Ko Ni that was published in a weekly magazine.
But two pages were missing from the police document that could explain the motive behind the killing.
The document also confirms that Kyi Lin shot U Ko Ni at close range on Sunday just outside the Rangoon International Airport, as the lawyer was returning from an official visit to Indonesia along with other officials and lawmakers.
“I followed him,” Kyi Lin said. “I shot him in the back of his head while he was holding a child.”
Who is Myint Swe?
The police document says that Myint Swe comes from the Tampawaddy quarter in Mandalay. Following the 1988 uprising, he fled to Myawaddy, a border town close to Mae Sot in Thailand. In the past, he was arrested in Myawaddy. The reason for his arrest was not mentioned in the leaked document.
Kyi Lin described Myint Swe as a man in his early fifties, soft-spoken, and with curly hair. He said Myint Swe was about 1.63 meters (5 feet 4 inches) tall.
Myint Swe is an expert in bronze casting, which is a common profession in the Tampawaddy neighborhood, according to local residents who spoke to The Irrawaddy. He also has a great interest in antiquities.
Myint Swe was infamous for his ability to imitate ancient bronze materials, and he was known as a smuggler of ancient artifacts. Residents said he was arrested several times for smuggling ancient materials.
“If he received any ancient bronze materials, he would copy them. He used acid to wear down the newly casted material to make it look older, and then he sold it. He is an expert in copying ancient artifacts,” said U Win Maung, who is an expert in ancient Burmese art and who also is a native of Tamppawaddy quarter.
U Win Maung said that in the past, he taught ancient Burmese art to Myint Swe.
“If he got caught forging, he would give away the imitation, but not the real ancient one. He is a guy who would do anything for money,” said U Win Maung.
According to other residents, Myint Swe traveled to Myawaddy in 1990 and was not seen for many years. His wife believed he was dead or assassinated, and she searched for him with the help of police. His wife received no information, and later she remarried one of the police officers who helped her search. Myint Swe’s ex-wife still lives in the Tampawaddy area with her husband.
Until Sunday, no one from Tampawaddy had any idea whether or not Myint Swe was still alive.
The Gunman Kyi Lin
The leaked police document says Kyi Lin was arrested in 2003 for smuggling religious antiquities, and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He spent seven years at Mandalay’s Obo Prison before he was moved to a hard labor camp in 2010. In 2014, President Thein Sein issued a general amnesty order, so Kyi Lin was released early, after only 11 years.
The gunman was a professional antiquity thief, according to an inmate who spent time in Obo prison alongside Kyi Lin. The former inmate spoke to The Irrawaddy on the condition that he remain anonymous, given the sensitivity of the current murder case.
“He knows a lot about history and about the styles of Buddha statues. Whenever he talked about them, we were mesmerized,” said the former inmate.
Initial police reports described Kyi Lin as being from Kyaukme Township in Shan State, and he was believed to be Chinese or Shan ethnicity. But in his statement to the police, the 54-year-old gunman said he is a Bamar (Burman ethnicity) and a Buddhist from Sai Hlya village in Yinmabin Township, Sagaing Division.
“He was not reluctant to smuggle Buddha statues despite being a Buddhist,” the former inmate said. “So, I think there would be nothing that he doesn’t dare to do.”