Myanmar dictator collects $7.5m in donations for Buddha statue

Many of Myanmar’s richest people gathered in Naypyitaw on Thursday to give junta leader Min Aung Hlaing more than 16 billion kyat (US$7.5 million) in cash to build a massive statue of the Buddha.

According to state media reports, the donations were made at a ceremony held in Naypyitaw’s Dekkhinathiri Township, where the 17-metre-tall statue has been under construction since before the military seized power in February 2021.

The project, patronised by Min Aung Hlaing to enhance his status as defender of Myanmar’s dominant religion, was supported by more than 100 of the country’s top businesspeople, the reports claimed.

The biggest donors, who gave between 500 million and 2 billion kyat ($235,000-940,000) each, included many who owe their fortunes to their close ties to the military.

Among them were some of Myanmar’s biggest tycoons: CB Bank chair Khin Maung Aye; Max Myanmar Group CEO Zaw Zaw; Asia World chair Tun Myint Naing, also known as Steven Law (whose father, the late drug lord Lo Hsing Han, co-founded the company with U Maung Kyay, another major donor who currently owns the Wai Mar company); Shwe Byain Phyu founder Thein Win Zaw (who more recently created ATOM Myanmar, a telecoms company that partnered with Lebanon’s M1 Group to take over Telenor’s Myanmar operations); Eden Group director Wanna Khine (whose father, company president Chit Khine, is currently in prison on graft charges related to his dealings with Myanmar’s ousted National League for Democracy government); and United Amara Bank owner Nay Aung (son of the late military hardliner Aung Thaung, who made a joint donation with his brother, Myanmar Navy commander Admiral Moe Aung).

CB Bank chair Khin Maung Aye, left, presents a donation valued at more than $1 million to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw on June 29 (Office of the Commander-in-Chief)

Others who donated between 100 million and 500 million kyat ($47,000-236,000) included Zaw Win Shein, the owner of A Bank; Aung Zaw Naing, CEO of the Shwe Taung construction company; Dr. Win Myint, a businessman who served as commerce minister in the quasi-civilian administration of former general and ex-president Thein Sein; and Kyaw Win, the owner of the Shwe Than Lwin construction group and Skynet TV. 

State-owned newspapers listed a total of 40 businessmen who participated in the donation ceremony and said the names of others who contributed would be published in the coming days. 

None of the donors who took part in Thursday’s ceremony have been placed under sanctions by nations critical of the Myanmar regime, which has killed thousands of civilians since seizing power more than two years ago.

The Maya Wizaya Buddha, as the statue under construction is called, is one of several such projects undertaken by Min Aung Hlaing since he became commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces in 2011.

In 2019, he received the lengthy title of Agga Maha Mangala Dhammajoti Daja—meaning “great and noble protector of the Dhamma”—from senior Myanmar Buddhist monks.

Construction of the giant Buddha statue began in Naypyitaw later that year.

Related Articles

Back to top button