Junta Crony

Notorious Myanmar Junta Crony U Tay Za Reemerges After Year-Long Public Absence

By The Irrawaddy 18 April 2023

Infamous Myanmar junta crony and arms-broker U Tay Za has resurfaced after a year-long public absence, accompanying a Thai Buddhist monk said to have psychic powers on a religious trip to northern Myanmar.

The United States-sanctioned crony arranged a private flight for the monk Phra Khuva Boonchum, who is widely known as Maing Hpone Sayadaw in Myanmar, from Mandalay to Putao in Kachin State on April 13. U Tay Za accompanied the monk, according to those on the trip.

Putao is Myanmar’s northernmost town and is known for its views of the surrounding Burmese Himalayas.

During the trip, Maing Hpone Sayadaw spent a few day at a far-flung village at the foot of a snow-capped mountain meditating, prompting fears among the predominantly Christian residents that the monk might build a pagoda in the village.

The pair returned by helicopter on Sunday. U Tay Za survived a helicopter crash in the area in the early 2010s.

U Thukha Meinda (second from left) and Maing Hpone Sayadaw (third from left) during the Putao trip. / Sao Su Kham

U Thukha Meinda, a Buddhist monk who also accompanied Maing Hpone Sayadaw on the trip, wrote on his Facebook that U Tay Za hired a Nepalese pilot at a cost of US$1,200 per day, praising the crony as ‘Maha Tay Za’, or ‘Tay Za the Great’. He claimed in the post that the pilot had previously made successful landings on Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak.

Maing Hpone Sayadaw stayed at U Tay Za’s Malikha Lodge outside Putao for part of the visit to Kachin. The lodge is the where generals, presidents and cronies stay when in Putao. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stayed there in 2015 and 2019.

Another crony U Khin Maung Aye, the chair of CB Bank, also joined U Tay Za and Maing Hpone Sayadaw on the trip.

CB bank chair U Khin Maung Aye (second from right) during Maing Hpone Sayadaw’s Putao trip.

Maing Hpone Sayadaw

The monk hails from northern Thailand and knows a number of prominent leaders in Myanmar, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

A lifelong vegetarian famous for his long, solitary periods of meditation in caves in Thailand, Bhutan and Myanmar’s Shan State, the monk’s Burmese name derives from Mong Phong [pronounced ‘Maing Hpone’ in Burmese)] village in eastern Shan State, where he spent time at a forest retreat when he was 16.

Revered for his highly moral conduct, Maing Hpone Sayadaw has many devotees in Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. He survives on fruit and biscuits and always walks barefoot, no matter the weather. Many of his followers believe he has psychic powers.

When a youth soccer team and their coach went missing in 2018 in a flooded cave complex in northern Thailand, Maing Hpone Sayadaw said that the group would be found alive. His prediction was correct, prompting a surge in his followers in Thailand.

Maing Hpone Sayadaw flies to Putao. / Sao Su Kham

Numerous business tycoons and generals in Myanmar have approached the monk for blessings.

Among his followers in Myanmar is notorious former military intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt. Before his fall from power, Khin Nyunt donated large amounts of money to the monk. In 2018, Maing Phone Sayadaw paid a visit to ailing former Senior General Maung Aye, once the second-most powerful man in the previous military regime.

U Tay Za

Founder and chairman of the Htoo Group, U Tay Za has lived in Singapore for years and has strong links to Myanmar’s current and former military regime.

In the 2000s, under the previous junta, the Htoo Group was involved in timber, transport, tourism, construction, property development, palm oil production and arms deals for the Myanmar military.

U Tay Za made his fortune in the timber business and subsequently expanded his dealings with the then regime, the State Peace and Development Council, by supplying the military with aircraft parts through his company Myanmar Avia Export. The company is Myanmar’s sole representative for Russia’s Export Military Industrial Group and the Russian helicopter manufacturer Rostvertol.

He kept a low profile while the National League for Democracy was in power, making a comeback after the 2021 coup when he joined a high-ranking military delegation to Moscow in May 2022 for the procurement of arms and military hardware.

Currently, the junta allows U Tay Za’s Htoo Group to import over US$5.4 million worth of palm oil per month to Myanmar.

Last year, U Tay Za was sanctioned by Washington for supplying weapons to Myanmar’s military. The Htoo Group is currently led by his sons, Pyae Phyo Tay Za and Htoo Htet Tay Za, who have also been targeted by US sanctions.

His daughter Htoo Htwe Tay Za, also known as Rachel Tayza, was sanctioned by the US in January this year.