Prosecution unable to find witnesses to testify against UDP chair Kyaw Myint

Prosecutors have so far been unable to find any witnesses to testify against Kyaw Myint, the United Democratic Party (UDP) chair arrested last month for escaping from prison in 1999, the judge in his case said. 

Speaking at the second hearing at the Chan Aye Tharzan court on Thursday, judge Kyaw Myo Win said prosecutors needed to demonstrate that Kyaw Myint escaped from Mandalay’s Obo prison.

“There has to be evidence that states that he did indeed escape,” he said. “If all the evidence is gone, the case is gone. Someone needs to show evidence against him.” 

Police made an official request to the court for more time to find prosecution witnesses, he added. “If we don’t find witnesses, the court cannot have anyone for questioning.”

Kyaw Myint has been charged under section 224 of the penal code, which punishes people who flee prison with up to two years in jail. A prison official has also said he will serve the remainder of his original sentence. 

He began a nine-year sentence in January 1998 for flouting Myanmar’s business laws but escaped after being transferred to hospital the following year.

The UDP’s co-founder, Kyaw Moe, told Myanmar Now last month that Kyaw Myint evaded capture after escaping by dressing up like a monk. 

Kyaw Myint attended the second hearing via video conference. After the first hearing, when he appeared in person, television viewers watching footage shot from outside the courtroom complained that they could not clearly see Kyaw Myint’s face. 

In response, the judge sought to allay suspicions that someone else had been sent to the court in his place.

“It’s the same person, the person who showed up to court and the person in the photos on the internet. I saw him,” he said on Thursday.

There are at least ten witnesses who could support the prosecution’s case, most of them police and prison staff who worked at Obo prison in 1999. 

But because of the amount of time that has passed, it has so far not been possible to make contact with most of them, Kyaw Myo Win said. Their names cannot be disclosed for security reasons, he added.

Inspector Thein Htay, the police officer who filed the original case against Kyaw Myint in 1999, has retired and prosecutors have been unable to find him. 

The court expects to hear from at least one or two witnesses before the next hearing on October 20, he said. 

There were rumours that UDP members would come to the court to support their chair during the second hearing, but none showed up on Thursday. 

Kyaw Myint, 69, was arrested at his home on the Pan Hlaing housing estate in Yangon on September 29 and transferred to Mandalay’s Obo Prison the next day. He is being held under tight security to prevent him escaping again.

His conviction in the 1990s related to alleged wrongdoing at his company, Myanmar Kyone Yeom. Authorities declared the company an illegal organisation and charged Kyaw Myint under the Myanmar Company Act.  

The US State Department later suggested the company was involved in laundering drug money for the United Wa State Army. 

After escaping, he sought asylum in America and then Canada, where he founded the UDP in 2007. The party contested the 2010 and 2015 elections with a few dozen candidates but failed to win any seats.

This year it is fielding over 1,130 candidates, the second largest number after the National League for Democracy.

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