Detained tycoon appeals to junta to halt mining at confiscated Mandalay gold block

Soe Htun Shein pens a letter to Min Aung Hlaing from prison asking that a military-owned conglomerate stop mining a lucrative site it seized from him

Imprisoned mining tycoon Soe Htun Shein wrote a recent letter appealing to the junta to halt commercial gold extraction from a 6,000-acre site in Mandalay, following its takeover by the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) from his own company earlier this year. 

Soe Htun Shein’s National Prosperity Gold Production Group (NPGPG) was granted mining rights for 25 years to the Moehti Moemi gold block in Yamethin Township in 2011 by a previous regime led by ex-general Thein Sein. In 2017, the elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government ordered a suspension of the project’s operations due to the company’s failure to pay tax arrears. 

An NPGPG shareholder previously told Myanmar Now that MEC took over the Moehti Moemi project on February 28 of this year, more than two years after the military coup that ousted the NLD administration in early 2021.

On June 14, Soe Htun Shein addressed a letter to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, expressing concern that MEC had granted mining permission on Moehti Moemi’s Block A to more than 30 companies without consulting NPGPG, an act that he alleged could lead to disputes. 

The letter was shared by the Myanmar Hardtalk Telegram channel, known for its links to Soe Htun Shein. The junta’s response, if any, was not known at the time of reporting. 

Soe Htun Shein’s company, NPGPG, has been attempting since last year to secure permission from the military council to operate the Moehti Moemi site jointly with MEC. Their proposal is that if they are given access to the site, they would provide the military conglomerate with nearly 11.5 kg in gold monthly, as well as 10 kg to the junta’s No. 2 Mining Enterprise, and 5 kg in tax to the regime. 

A known ultranationalist who has provided support to extremist groups including Ma Ba Tha, Soe Htun Shein is serving time in Yamethin Prison for violating the 1947 Public Property Protection Act—which carries a seven-year prison sentence—following his arrest in Thailand in 2019, two years after his company’s activities at Moehti Moemi were halted and one year after his own mining licence was revoked by the NLD. The junta dropped one additional case against him for mining without a permit, but he is still facing a civil case in Mandalay for allegedly failing to pay tax on more than 1,600 kg of gold.  

MEC is a holding company founded by the military in 1997. It has a range of business interests spanning mining, commercial production and the communication sectors. As it provides a major source of revenue to the junta, it was one of the first entities sanctioned by the United States after the 2021 coup. 

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