YANGON — Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein’s decision to accept of a 20-million-kyat donation to the city by accused Malaysian fraudster Ong Kean Swan has drawn a strong negative reaction on social media.
Ong, a Malaysian who also goes by Peter Ong, is an accused fraudster, self-styled backer of professional gamblers and the CEO of a multilevel marketing (MLM) company and that has been blacklisted in Taiwan, Malaysia and China.
On Saturday, the Yangon Regional Government’s official Facebook account said Ong’s family donated money to assist the government’s social work, and posted nine photos including one of the chief minister presenting Ong with a certificate of honor
“It is encouraging bad people. That is not acceptable for the head of the [Yangon] government. Actually, it is easy to check a person’s background in the media. Before accepting the money, they should have checked [Ong’s] background,” said Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, a former Yangon Regional Parliament lawmaker.
“The government should not accept ‘black money.’ It is a small amount of money but definitely ruins the government’s image,” she told The Irrawaddy.
Many people commented under the photos, some pasting screenshots with information about the donor’s background including lawsuits filed against him in Singapore and Malaysia. People advised the Yangon government to conduct serious background checks before accepting donations from external donors.
“If they don’t know where the money comes from, it’s better not to accept it. If it is black money, it could implicate [the government] in money laundering,” said U Tint Zaw Hein, a Magway Region Youth Network adviser.
In Myanmar, multi-level marketing companies have a bad reputation due to a number of cases in which people claim to have been defrauded.
The Myanmar President’s Office and the Ministry of Home Affairs ordered the Bureau of Special Investigation (BSI) to investigate MLM companies in Myanmar after receiving reports of fraud from the public. The BSI announced in January that MLM companies take advantage of investors and that it was investigating those currently operating in the country.
According to international media reports, Ong is CEO of the MLM company Dream Success International Sdn Bhd and the Surewin4u corporate website.
Dream Success International claims to sell health and beauty products. Surewin4u is a corporate website run by Dream Success International that promises investors monthly returns plus bonuses from backing “expert gamblers” who play in casinos. The company claims investors have a 99 percent of chance of making money, according to Ong’s website.
According to Malaysian and Taiwanese reports, in 2013 Dream Success International and the website www.Surewin4u.com were blacklisted by the Central Bank of Malaysia (Bank Negara Malaysia) after they were found to be engaging in unlicensed activities. In 2014, the Taiwanese government shut down Dream Success International’s operations there for allegedly defrauding thousands of investors out of millions of dollars.
In 2015, Dream Winners and Surewin4u became the focus of negative media reports for operating a multi-level pyramid scam in Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and China.
According to a report published in The Straits Times on Oct. 21, 2017, a suit filed with Singapore’s High Court claimed that around 150 people in Singapore lost 50 million Singapore dollars (about 53 billion kyats) after investing in Surewin4u
Citing court documents, The Straits Times reported that Ong had not been heard from in Singapore since 2014, when the website went dark, leaving investors empty-handed.
A victim filed a lawsuit against Surewin4u for fraud and losing investment. Two representatives from Surewin4u facing at court.
In 2017, a suit was filed in a Singapore court by a plaintiff alleging the loss of their investment to fraud. Two Surewin4u representatives faced the court, as Ong had fled the country.
In September of that year, the Myanmar Ministry of Home Affairs announced that it was investigating four MLMs about which it had received complaints from the public. A Malaysian-owned MLM company reportedly defrauded Myanmar investors of over USD1 million in that year.
Many critics have urged the government to pass a law regulating MLM companies in Myanmar.
“When the government accepts money from a multi-level marketing scammer, it means they accept the MLM system,” U Tint Zaw Hein said.
“The government should not even be meeting these people. Accepting donations goes too far,” he added.