USDP to Sue Newspapers Over Gems Corruption Story

By San Yamin Aung 3 June 2016

RANGOON — The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has said it will sue two Burmese weekly newspapers—the Myanmar Herald and the Messenger—along with other individuals, for defaming former President Thein Sein and the USDP in their coverage of the alleged embezzlement of 93 million euros (US$103.9 million) from an account linked to the Myanmar Gems Traders Association.

The military-backed USDP controlled the previous government under President Thein Sein, who still chairs the party, and was delivered a crushing defeat by the National League for Democracy in the November election.

As reported previously by The Irrawaddy, on Thursday 81 members of the gem-trading association held a press conference in Rangoon, calling on the Ministry of Resources and Environmental Conservation and the managing director of the state-run Myanmar Gems Enterprise to address the so-far unexplained loss of €93 million.

It has been alleged that €1 million (over US$1.1 million) was given to Thein Sein—although former Minister of Mines Myint Aung has claimed that this sum was donated to the Myanmar Art Center, a nonprofit in Rangoon, and put toward construction costs.

The Union Daily, a newspaper which also serves as the mouthpiece of the USDP, on Friday cited a May 28 report from the Myanmar Herald, which contained the following language [translated here]: “[members of] the Myanmar Gems Traders Association demanded a probe into former president Thein Sein and his associates’ misappropriation of over ‘$80 million’ from the association’s funds.”

The Union Daily claimed that the Myanmar Herald had “wrongly reported” that Thein Sein and his former cabinet members worked hand in glove with officials from the gems-trading association to embezzle the money, with a reported US$7 million given to the Myanmar Art Center, an institution which is entirely unconnected to the gems-trading association.

“The story is designed to blacken the reputation of ex-president Thein Sein and mislead the people,” the Union Daily report said. “This not only defames Thein Sein, who is the chairman of the USDP, but also tarnishes the image of the USDP, which is undergoing a reform process to achieve future [electoral] victory.”

The Union Daily report said that the USDP would take legal action against the Myanmar Herald Journal, which featured the “misleading reporting,” the Messenger Journal, which published its own story based on the Myanmar Herald’s reporting, and Kyaw Kyaw Oo, an executive committee member of the gems-trading association, for filing an “incorrect complaint without strong evidence,” and others [not specified] who were behind the allegations.

An investigation team under the state-owned Myanmar Gems Enterprise began looking into the apparent discrepancy in late May. The complainants from the association, including Kyaw Kyaw Oo, have also requested the Legal Issues and Special Cases Committee, led by former acting USDP chairman Shwe Mann, to investigate.

The Irrawaddy attempted to contact each of the USDP’s three spokespersons, but none could be reached for comment.