UN Ambassador Assassination Plot Shines Spotlight on Shady Myanmar Businessman

By The Irrawaddy 1 September 2021

In early August, two men were arrested in the US by the FBI for plotting an alleged assassination attempt on U Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, over his support of the anti-regime movement.

The arrests came as Myanmar’s junta was trying to replace U Kyaw Moe Tun but it says it had nothing to with the planned attack.

Initial reports revealed that the two men were hired by an arms dealer in Thailand.

The arms dealer was identified as U Aye Ko, a businessman from Myanmar who runs a construction company and operates hotels in Yangon and Mandalay, according to media reports.

U Aye Ko reportedly transferred US$4,000 (6.6 million kyats) via Zelle on July 22 and 23 to Phyo Hein Htut, 28, through Ye Hein Zaw, 20, both of whom are being detained by the FBI.

The 60-year-old tycoon also operates casinos in Cambodia and is a well-known figure among wealthy expats from Myanmar in the Thai business community. He frequently accompanied Myanmar’s military generals on foreign trips and has worked as a business matchmaker for Thai businesses looking to invest in Myanmar.

U Aye Ko also reportedly attended a Thai-Myanmar military exchange organized by General Thanchaiyan Srisuwan, who was then the Thai defense forces chief in 2018.

There are also reports that U Aye Ko has close ties with Thai-owned Chaiseri Defense Co, a supplier of tanks and military-purpose vehicles to Myanmar’s military. The company denied the reports that it was involved with any plot against U Kyaw Moe Tun.

It cannot be confirmed that U Aye Ko acts as an arms broker for Myanmar’s military but he has close ties with Myanmar’s notorious arms broker and long-time generals’ crony U Tay Za. Under the previous military regime, U Tay Za supplied Myanmar’s military with aircraft parts through his company Myanmar Avia Export.

The company is Myanmar’s sole representative for Russia’s Export Military Industrial Group (MAPO) and the Russian helicopter company Rostvertol.

U Aye Ko is also a close friend of U Aye Thein, the father of Ye Hein Zaw, a former director of the Special Investigation Bureau at the Home Affairs Ministry.

U Tay Za and other tycoons in Thailand live in luxurious homes.

U Aye Ko supported the February coup and reportedly told his business partners in Bangkok it had allowed him to resume his businesses.

With five other shareholders, U Aye Ko established AK Construction and Industry Co Ltd in 1995. He owns three hotels in Mandalay, the Min Thar Gyi, Mandalay City and Hotel Mandalay, and the Olympic Hotel in Yangon.

Before the coup, Mandalay Region parliamentarians asked about the rental charges, which were far below the market rate, for his hotels in the city.

The Irrawaddy has learned that U Aye Ko had two bodyguards with him while he was in Yangon and Bangkok and he is currently in hiding in Bangkok while in close contact with Myanmar’s junta.

The Royal Thai Police say they are searching for U Aye Ko.

US prosecutors say Phyo Hein Htut and Ye Hein Zaw were intermediaries and made payments to fund an attack on U Kyaw Moe Tun. Each faces charges of conspiracy to assault a foreign diplomat and up to five years in prison.

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