Myanmar regime arrests army general, targets businessmen and traders as economy continues to suffer

Failing to amass enough foreign revenue or keep prices under control, the junta has resorted to investigating one of its own generals among other officials, demanding back taxes from border traders, and cracking down on businessmen

Military authorities arrested Brigadier General Yan Naung Soe, a high-ranking commerce official, last week amid a series of arrests and crackdowns on trade and finance officials, businessmen, and exporters.

BBC Burmese reported on Sunday that most of the detained officials were involved in finance or in rice, maize, or oil exports. Officials from the junta’s commerce ministry were also under investigation.

Yan Naung Soe was serving as joint secretary of the military council’s Central Committee on Ensuring the Smooth Flow of Trade and Goods, the committee chiefly responsible for procuring American dollars for export and import licensing purposes and various other commercial transactions. 

Personnel from the Office of Military Security Affairs and from the Bureau of Special Investigation in Naypyitaw took the brigadier general into custody at around 6pm on September 7, according to a trader working on the China-Myanmar border who spoke with Myanmar Now. He remains in detention. 

According to the border trader, the military has initiated investigations into the licensing processes for imports and exports of gasoline and cooking oil, and three officials from the ministry of commerce are also currently under investigation in connection with maize exports at the border. 

“They said the permits had been issued wrongly, and that the officials failed to reimburse authorities for the duties on the exports,” he said, explaining the reasons given for the investigation.

According to another Chinese-Myanmar border trader, the military had also begun demanding that traders pay back taxes on their profits from recent years, causing a large number of them to try to elude authorities.

“It’s not convenient anymore, since it’s like they’re asking us to submit backdated duties on export earnings. It’s impossible to have kept records from so far back,” he said.

Before his arrest, Yan Naung Soe said during a Naypyidaw meeting held on August 19 that the businesses failing to reimburse the military for their export earnings would be subject not only to litigation, but also revocation of their trade licenses and placement on a blacklist.

When Myanmar Now requested comments on the arrests from Myint Thura, director general of the trade department and spokesperson for the ministry of commerce, he only replied that he had “no comments to give.”

The escalation of investigations and enforcement on traders and commerce officials may be part of a broader pattern of seeking culprits for Myanmar’s economic ills. 

At a meeting with military families in Lashio on Saturday, Sen.-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said that commodity prices were rising sharply due to international sanctions and “greedy businessmen,” but that they would soon fall again due to actions already taken by the regime. 

The week before, on the morning of August 30, junta minister of commerce Aung Naing Oo, who also serves as chair of the junta’s commodity prices stability committee, summoned the heads of Myanmar’s largest cooking oil businesses to Naypyidaw to admonish them to sell their goods at lower prices.

Shortly afterwards, the Bureau of Special Investigation had arrested and interrogated San Lin, chair of the association of cooking oil businesses, along with other cooking oil business owners. 

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