Suu Kyi dismisses former chief minister’s bribery claims against her as ‘absurd’

Detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi has denied claims by her ousted government’s former Yangon chief minister that he gave her bribes, describing his testimony last week as “absurd.”

Phyo Min Thein told a court on Friday that he had paid Suu Kyi $600,000 and given her 11.4kg of gold in exchange for protection and support for his businesses. 

Thein Oo, justice minister for Myanmar’s underground government, suggested after the hearing that Phyo Min Thein may have acted under duress.  

Suu Kyi appeared at the court in Zabuthiri Township in Naypyitaw on Monday to defend herself against separate charges of violating Covid-19 rules during last year’s election campaign and of illegally importing walkie-talkies.

She made the remarks about Phyo Min Thein while speaking with her lawyers during a 30-minute meeting ahead of her hearing. 

“She said she had no specific comments and it was ‘all absurd,’” her lead defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told Myanmar Now.

Phyo Min Thein was a leading figure in Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government and was once even rumoured to be her potential successor within the party.

He was among the first NLD leaders to be arrested when the military toppled the NLD government on February 1.  

In March, the military announced that its anti-graft commission was investigating Suu Kyi for corruption and that Phyo Min Thein had admitted to giving her the bribes. Days later the junta released video of him making the allegations. 

Some supporters of the NLD have accused him of betraying his party while others have suggested he was forced to give false testimony. 

“There will be cases where the junta tortures and threatens people to testify falsely,” the National Unity Government’s Thein Oo said last week. 

Suu Kyi’s defence lawyers said Phyo Min Thein avoided looking at his party’s leader during Friday’s hearing.

Phyo Min Thein poses for a portrait with a painting of Aung San Suu Kyi during his tenure as the Yangon Chief Minister (Phyo Min Thein/Facebook)

The junta has hit Suu Kyi with 11 charges that could add up to a decades-long prison sentence. She is accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act, the Import and Export Law, the Telecommunication Law, and the Natural Disaster Management Law, and of incitement, in addition to the corruption charges.  

Five of the charges are being heard in a special court in Zabuthiri opened specifically for her trial, with hearings every Monday and Tuesday. Another four are scheduled to be held every other week on Fridays. 

Her hearings for the Official Secrets Act case, in which her Australian economic advisor Sean Turnell and three other cabinet members are also accused, are held every Thursday.

Suu Kyi on Monday asked for hearings to be held every two weeks, rather than every week, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said. 

“She said she had to spend all week at court and it’s a strain on her health,” he said. The judge said he would make a decision about the request next week, he added. 

Detained president Win Myint has also been accused of violating Covid-19 restrictions during the election and appeared in court along with Suu Kyi on Monday. 

The next joint hearing for Suu Kyi and Win Myint is scheduled for October 11. 

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