Junta Crony

Making Money for the Junta

By Hein Htoo Zan 2 March 2023

Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing looks set to add to his already considerable fortune with the involvement of regime crony U Aung Myo Min Din—who has deep ties to the coup leader and his family—in a Russia-backed luxury housing project and tourism sector promotion scheme in Rakhine State’s famous Ngapali Beach.

The Russia-Myanmar Association for Friendship and Cooperation (RMAFC) and Treasure of Ngapali Development Co. Ltd. (described by the junta as a local company) signed an MoU to develop the luxury seafront apartment project and cooperate in the tourism sector at the famous beach on Feb. 4. RMAFC vice-president Anatoly Bulochnikov attended the event.

U Aung Myo Min Din / Amazing Hotels & Resorts

Sources said hotelier U Aung Myo Min Din, who is not only the founder of the Amazing Hotels & Resorts Group, but also chairman of both the Myanmar Hotelier Association and the Ngapali Hotel Zone Committee, is behind the project.

Despite the junta’s description of Treasure of Ngapali Development Co. Ltd. as “local”, Bulochnikov and another Russian citizen are listed as company directors, according to data from the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA). The company has also been active in forestry and logging, mining support services, specialized construction, and trading of motor vehicles.

“These days, such a development could never be made in Ngapali without his [U Aung Myo Min Din’s] involvement,” said a local businesswoman who owns hotels in Ngapali and Mrauk-U.

She remarked that the project might even be developed on land he owns in Ngapali.

According to figures from the Ministry of Defense, U Aung Myo Min Din’s Minor Myanmar Co. Ltd. and Amazing Hotels and Resorts Co. Ltd. have been renting 15 acres (6 hectares) of land in Ngapali from the military on a long-term deal since 2007.

U Aung Myo Min Din, 53, owns the Amazing Ngapali Resort Hotel and the Ngapali Golf Club, and is currently preparing to build another hotel on 10 acres of land in Ngapali. Locals and hotelier sources said it will be a new addition to his Ananta Hotel chain, which includes Ananta Inlay Resort Hotel in Nyaung Shwe and the Ananta Bagan Hotel Myanmar in the World Heritage Site of Bagan.

Before 2010, U Aung Myo Min Din reportedly operated a tour company, Adventure Myanmar Travel, and four hotels including the Hotel Amazing Kaytu in Bago’s Taungoo. Since coup leader Min Aung Hlaing became the military chief in 2011, however, Amazing Hotels & Resorts Group has emerged as the most successful hotelier in Myanmar’s hospitality industry. From 2011 to 2018 his business grew to encompass 12 Amazing-branded hotels and resorts, an unusually rapid expansion for Myanmar, where it is extremely difficult to obtain bank loans and raise capital. The multimillion-dollar premier hotels are located in the country’s most popular destinations including the commercial capital Yangon, as well as Mandalay and on a number of beaches.

His connection to Min Aung Hlaing’s family dates back to the days when he was a high school student of the army chief’s wife, Daw Kyu Kyu Hla, and many believe this paved the way for his future success. Business sources told The Irrawaddy that U Aung Myo Min Din is a favorite of Min Aung Hlaing’s family because he is polite and hard-working.

Min Aung Hlaing’s wife Kyu Kyu Hla (front right) and U Aung Myo Min Din (fourth from right) attend an event at his Amazing Bagan Resort on Aug. 16, 2018 to welcome a Thai delegation led by Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Armed Forces Gen. Tarnchaiyan Srisuwan. / Amazing Hotels & Resorts

“Every businessman knows from whom large sums of capital can be obtained, and who can help expand one’s business in a short time in Myanmar,” said a tour operator.

Sources in the hospitability industry also said Min Aung Hlaing’s son Aung Pyae Sone has invested in the Ananta Hotel chain. Given the connection, it’s believed that Min Aung Hlaing’s family is likely to be involved in the recently inked Russian-backed luxury housing project and tourism promotion deals in Ngapali beach.

U Aung Myo Min Din has previously denied receiving support from the junta chief and his family.

He is also one of the few hoteliers who has been given permission to run a casino in Myanmar. His Hotel Marvel in Mandalay has operated a casino since early 2022, one year after the coup, according to sources in the city.

U Aung Myo Min Din and his wife Daw Aye Aye Myint’s Adventure Myanmar Group won a tender to rent the hotel for over US$400,000 per year in 2013. At that time, he was able to sign a 30-year lease contract with the Mandalay regional government under the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) government.

“Most of the people who go there [Hotel Marvel] to visit the casino are Chinese citizens who come as tourists. Some live here in Mandalay to conduct business,” said a tour operator who arranges transportation to Hotel Marvel for Chinese people who want to gamble.

But he has many other companies and businesses as well.

As far as The Irrawaddy has been able to find out, founding Adventure Myanmar Group of Companies was the first step that U Aung Myo Min Din and his wife Daw Aye Aye Myint took to begin their business, with most of their other companies popping up in the following years and decades.

The Ananta Bagan Hotel in Myanmar’s World Heritage Site, Bagan, is part of U Aung Myo Min Din’s Ananta Hotel chain, in which Min Aung Hlaing’s son Aung Pyae Sone is an investor. / Ananta Bagan

According to data from DICA, the group has been active in farming, extraction of crude petroleum and natural gas, mining and quarrying, manufacturing of refined petroleum products, basic pharmaceutical products, construction, motor vehicle trading and telecommunications. His businesses have expanded nationwide in those sectors as well as in the hotels and tourism sector. His companies in these other areas include AMG Transport Company Limited, S.V Resort Company Ltd., Min Din Company Ltd. and Minor Myanmar Co. Ltd.

Starting in 2015, he expanded his businesses by founding other companies, namely Amaztel Company Limited, Safety Plus Myanmar Company Limited, Aung Myanmar Min Company Limited and Great Arts & Development International Company Limited.

At the latter, he was a director along with two others who are also key shareholders in Hantharwady Development Public Company, which is in the process of securing state approval to invest a total of about US$184 million in a mixed-use land development comprising housing and industrial projects in Bago Region.

Revolutionary fighters and activists who are resisting the junta said it is obvious that people like U Aung Myo Min Din are emerging as financial pillars for Min Aung Hlaing and those close to him.

“As long as they are cooperating with the junta, they are financing the junta, enabling them to keep oppressing and slaughtering the people,” said U Nay Zin Lat, a member of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.

As the chairman of the Myanmar Hotelier Association, U Aung Myo Min Din’s role to generate foreign income through tourism for the cash-strapped regime became more evident last year.

At the Myanmar Hotelier Association’s annual meeting in Naypyitaw on April 25, 2022, the junta’s hotels and tourism minister, U Htay Aung, held discussions with U Aung Myo Min Din and some other major hoteliers. At the meeting, U Aung Myo Min Din pledged to overcome the challenges facing the hotels and tourism sector under the leadership of the junta’s ministry, according to state-owned media.

Then in January this year, U Aung Myo Min Din was among the prominent and powerful cronies invited by Min Aung Hlaing to attend the recent Independence Day commemoration in Naypyitaw.

For observers who monitor the activities of the Myanmar junta cronies, it was a sign that U Aung Myo Min Din—once the new kid in town—is no longer merely a hotelier with ties to the junta leader’s family, but has emerged as a key a crony and pillar of the regime. The latest deal with the Russians in Ngapali will likely provide further proof soon.