Authorities probe how prison escapee was allowed to return to Myanmar to run a political party 

Authorities are investigating how United Democratic Party (UDP) chair Kyaw Myint was able to enter Myanmar and live openly for years despite being a fugitive, a President’s Office spokesperson has said. 

The 69-year-old was arrested late last month more than 20 years after he escaped Mandalay’s Obo prison in 1999 and took asylum in the US and then Canada.

He returned to Myanmar via China six years ago at the Muse land border crossing using a document issued by the previous government, Zaw Htay told a press conference last week. 

“He got to China from Canada in 2012,” he said. Then Kyaw Myint used business connections among importers of construction materials and consumer goods to cross the border, he added, without elaborating. 

“We’re investigating if his entry was officially acknowledged by the government,” said Zaw Htay.

He added that Kyaw Myint entered Myanmar in 2014, but Chinese state media reported that he met with the Chinese ambassador in Yangon in 2013. 

After entering Myanmar Kyaw Myint lived in Ottara Thiri township in Naypyitaw, Zaw Htay said.

But he was not included on a list of repatriates who were granted an official pardon, or of people removed from a blacklist by the previous government, the spokesperson added. 

Kyaw Moe, the UDP’s co-founder, told Myanmar Now last month that Kyaw Myint made multiple appeals to the previous government to be allowed to officially return to the country while living in China’s Yunnan province.

The Union Election Commission asked the government for an investigation after news of Kyaw Myint’s criminal past went viral, Zaw Htay said. 

The team investigating Kyaw Myint’s case have questioned former military intelligence officers, he added.

The investigation has also revealed the extent of Kyaw Myint’s large fortune.  

“We found billions in income,” Zaw Htay said. “His net worth is around 23.5 billion kyat ($18.3m), and that includes a lot of American dollars.”

The immigration department is investigating how Kyaw Myint acquired his National Registration Card. 

Kyaw Myint with former Chinese ambassador Yang Houlan in Yangon in 2013 (Xinhua)

“Whose ID is this and who does this number belong to?” Zaw Htay said. “Who gave him this number? And how was his registration as the chair of UDP… reasoned at the Ministry of Home Affairs? We’re investigating all of it, so it’s still in progress.”

Kyaw Myint is being held at Obo prison and has been charged under section 224 of the Penal Code for escaping. 

That charge carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. But he will also be made to serve the remainder of his original nine-year sentence, which he got for flouting business laws. 

Last week judge Kyaw Myo Win of the Chan Aye Tharzan township court said the prosecution had so far failed to produce any witnesses. 

Ten witnesses have been summoned to testify but prosecutors have been unable to track them down. 

Kyaw Myint was arrested at his home in Yangon on September 29 and is being held under tight security to prevent him escaping again.

His conviction in the 1990s related to his company, Myanmar Kyone Yeom.

Kyaw Myint was charged for breaches of the Myanmar Company Act. The US State Department later suggested his company was involved in laundering drug money for the United Wa State Army. 

He founded the UDP in Canada in 2007. The party contested the 2010 and 2015 elections with a few dozen candidates but failed to win any seats.

This year it is fielding over 1,130 candidates, the second largest number after the National League for Democracy.

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