Nationalist gold magnate begins appeal against illegal mining charge

A gold magnate who was arrested after fleeing to Thailand amid accusation of illegal mining is appealing to have the charge dropped.

Soe Htun Shein, chairman of the National Prosperity Gold Production Group (NPGPG), began the appeals process along with four of his company executives at a Mandalay court on Monday.

His trial for mining without a licence began in the Yamethin township court on April 27 and he filed an appeal on May 5 to the district court to have the charges dropped.

Soe Htun Shein is known for his outspoken support of Buddhist nationalist causes and the anti-Muslim monks behind them. In 2015 he donated just over 1.6 kilograms of gold, worth about $70,000, to Ma Ba Tha, the now disbanded hardline Buddhist nationalist group.

The government suspended NPGPG’s mining permit in November 2017 after the company refused to hand over 1,293 viss of gold it was contractually obligated to pay the state for a 6,100-acre mining site in Mandalay region.

The company ignored the suspension and continued mining and producing gold. The following March, an official from the environment and natural resource ministry filed charges against five of the company’s executives, including Soe Htun Shein.

He faces charges in two additional cases as well.

In a civil suit at the Mandalay Region High Court he is facing charges for the company’s refusal to hand over the initial 1,293 viss of gold.

The charge in Yamethin carries a possible 10-year prison sentence while a further potential charge carries another seven years.

Police are looking into charging Soe Htun Shein and six fugitive NPGPG board members for theft of public property, also in Yamethin and also stemming from the failure to hand over gold owed to the government.

“We’ll have to evaluate the township court’s decision to charge him. There will be an initial hearing with both parties present on June 1 and a decision will be reached after that,” district judge Than Htay told Myanmar Now.

“It seems they’re charging him [with more offenses] because they don’t want to let him get off if his current appeal is successful,” Soe Htun Shein’s lawyer, Khin Khin Taw, told Myanmar Now.

Soe Htun Shein is being held in Yamethin prison until May 22, township judge Zaw Lin Maung told Myanmar Now.

According to court records, NPGPG went on to mine three viss (10.8lbs) of gold after their permit had been suspended.

NPGPG has produced around six tonnes of gold in Mandalay region since it began mining in 2011.

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