Former Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein testified against detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday in a corruption case filed by the junta that could sentence her to 15 years in prison.
Phyo Min Thein served under Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government and is said to have even been his potential successor.
Her testimony came as Suu Kyi entered her first day of hearings on four corruption charges – initially filed against her in the Mandalay Region High Court – in a Naypyitaw court, according to her defense team.
Phyo Min Thein appeared at the hearing as a lead witness for one of the charges brought by the junta’s anti-corruption commission, lead defense attorney Khin Maung Zaw said.
The junta accused Suu Kyi in March of accepting a total of $ 600,000 and seven viss, or about 11.4 kg, of gold in bribes from the former chief minister on three occasions in return. support and protection of its businesses.
The junta released a video as Phyo Min Thein brought charges against Suu Kyi.
Khin Maung Zaw said that Judge Myint San of the Mandalay Region High Court presided over the corruption cases against Suu Kyi and that the plaintiff, who is a member of the anti-graft commission, also testified at the hearing. .
Phyo Min Thein, said the lawyer, “didn’t even look Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the face. He just kept his head down and went straight to the witness corner. We even had to tell him to speak louder because his voice was so soft.
“He testified to the same thing as in the video released by the military council,” he added.
The judge tried to ask the defense team to question the former chief minister to prevent him from traveling from Yangon to Naypyitaw at a future hearing, according to Khin Maung Zaw.
Phyo Min Thein told the court that someone else organized his trip to Naypyitaw. He added that he was suffering from chronic heart disease and had been infected with the coronavirus twice in recent months, the lawyer told Myanmar Now.
Suu Kyi’s attorneys refused the judge’s request to question her on the grounds that she had not consulted them about the cases and that they were only able to see the case files just before the hearing. .
The judge has set the next hearing for October 8 and summoned Phyo Min Thein again, Khin Maung Zaw said.
Thein Oo, the justice minister of the Underground National Unity Government, said he was unable to say what pressure Phyo Min Thein was under to have him testify against his own party leader. His testimony will be crucial in the case of Suu Kyi, he added.
“It is important to know if he is in a situation where he is able to testify freely and independently,” he said. “There are a lot of false witnesses in court cases and it will be more evident during such a period. “
“There will be cases where the junta tortures and threatens people to testify falsely,” he added.
Phyo Min Thein participated in the 1988 Democratic Uprising as a college student and became active in politics as a founding member of the Democratic Party for a New Society.
He was arrested in 1991 for his political activities and sentenced to seven years in prison. The military government added more prison time when he was in prison and he was finally released in 2005.
Before joining the NLD in 2012, he was involved in two other smaller political parties. He ran in the 2012 by-elections as the NLD party representative for Hlegu County in Yangon. He won this election and became a member of the Lower House.
He became a member of the party’s central executive committee and was appointed chief minister of Yangon by Suu Kyi after winning the 2015 elections by representing the same county in the Yangon region parliament.
During his tenure he faced several controversies involving criticism within the party as well as the business community and the general public.
He attended a public event in Yangon in 2019 to support Suu Kyi as she traveled to The Hague to defend the country against genocide charges against the Rohingya before the International Court of Justice.
“Everyone in the audience should stand alongside Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who is trying to solve something that is Myanmar’s business,” Phyo Min Thein said at the event.
He did not run in the 2020 election. When the military seized power in the NLD government on February 1, Phyo Min Thein was among the party leaders arrested.
A month later, the military announced that its anti-corruption commission was investigating Suu Kyi for corruption and that Phyo Min Thein had admitted to giving him bribes.
Suu Kyi faces a total of five corruption charges. Two concern Suu Kyi alone, another concerns two ministers in her government and the fourth concerns two members of the Naypyitaw council who served under the NLD.
His defense attorneys said other charges were related to land ownership issues at the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a charity that Suu Kyi founded on behalf of her mother.
The military has also filed a separate bribery case against Suu Kyi with the Yangon Regional High Court, but no detailed information on the case has been revealed and lawyers believe she could be transferred to Naypyitaw as well.
Suu Kyi has also been accused of illegally importing walkie talkies, violating Covid-19 regulations and incitement, among others. She faces a sentence of several decades. A charge of breaking the Official Secrets Act alone carries a 14-year prison sentence.
Suu Kyi’s Australian economic adviser Sean Turnell was also named in the case, as were Kyaw Win, who served as NLD finance minister, his successor, Soe Win, and Deputy Minister Set Aung.
Their hearings began on September 23 in a court in Naypyitaw.