A district-level court in Mandalay Region handed gold mining magnate Soe Htun Shein a 10-year prison sentence on Wednesday for charges related to unlicensed mining.
The Yamethin District Court’s sentence was for a charge under the Public Property Protection Act, one of several charges authorities had brought against Soe Htun Shein since the administration of the pre-coup National League for Democracy (NLD) administration.
The National Prosperity Gold Production Group (NPGPG), chaired by Soe Htun Shein at the time, received permission in 2011 to run the Moehti Moemi mining development project on a 6,000-acre tract of land in Yamethin Township, Mandalay Region.
When the company failed to pay a tax imposed on gold mining businesses, the NLD government suspended National Prosperity’s mining licence, later ordering Soe Htun Shein’s arrest when the company continued operating at Moehti Moemi in defiance of the suspension.
Soe Htun Shein evaded arrest by fleeing the country but was apprehended in Thailand in November of 2019. Myanmar authorities ultimately brought three charges against him, including the charge under the Public Property Protection Act that carried a potential sentence of 10 years in prison.
He still faces a civil charge concerning the tax, totalling more than 1,200 viss (1,900 kg) of gold, allegedly owed in arrears by NPC. The junta-controlled ministry of mining is the plaintiff in the civil suit, which has yet to be adjudicated in court.
The military council reportedly cleared him of the third charge, brought under Section 30a(i) of the Mining Law, in May of 2022. However, the recent sentence indicates that they have not answered Soe Htun Shein’s attempts to negotiate his release or matters concerning ownership of the Moehti Moemi mining project.
In a letter addressed to the junta chiefs dated June 14, 2023, he offered to deliver seven viss (11 kg) of gold to the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation—which has taken over the Moehti Moemi in its entirety—as well as offering regular payments of gold in tax directly to the military council.
The military council continued to hold Soe Htun Shein at Yamethin Prison before his sentencing, but afforded special privileges to him such as allowing him to receive visitors during the day, according to a family member of another inmate at Yamethin.
Myanmar Now has yet to confirm this claim independently.
A man associated with the Yamethin District Court clarified that “the 10-year prison sentence does not include manual labor.”
A manager at NPGPG, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Soe Htun Shein was still at the Yamethin Prison and added that he was in good health.
Soe Htun Shein has been a major donor to the Ma Ba Tha ultranationalist organisations, which became notorious for campaigns targeting Muslim people and businesses, parades supporting the military, and other such promotion of religious and ethnic chauvinism. The NLD government abolished the Ma Ba Tha in 2017.