Suu Kyi ‘just sat still and stared’ at Phyo Min Thein during his testimony, says lawyer 

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is now facing 11 criminal charges put forward by Myanmar’s junta, including five corruption charges each carrying a 15-year prison sentence. One of these cases is based on a statement made by former Yangon Region chief minister Phyo Min Thein, who claimed that he bribed the State Counsellor with US$600,000 and 11.4kg of gold in exchange for protection and business support. 

Suu Kyi dismissed the allegations as “absurd,” head of her defence team Khin Maung Zaw said. 

As a central executive committee member of the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Phyo Min Thein has been in detention since the February 1 coup. He had been held in an undisclosed location along with his wife until October 1, when he was brought to testify against Aung San Suu Kyi in the Naypyitaw court created by the junta to host her trial. 

Myanmar Now spoke with Suu Kyi’s lawyer Khin Maung Zaw about Phyo Min Thein’s testimony, and the corruption cases against the State Counsellor. 

Myanmar Now: Is there physical evidence for the corruption charges Aung San Suu Kyi is facing?

Khin Maung Zaw: There is no physical evidence at all. This is written on the front page of the case file. 

MN: Has there been any occasion where a corruption charge was filed without physical evidence?

KMZ: Most of the time, the authorities would have had to hunt for the evidence if it was no longer in the hands of the defendant. For example, if they sold the evidence to a jewelry store, they’d have to confiscate the item from the shop. However, in her case, they just wrote on the case file that there was no physical evidence.

MN: In other cases, the official from the anti-graft commission would interrogate the defendant and if they had enough evidence, they’d be sent to court. Did the commission officer first interrogate Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the corruption charges? Or did she only find out about the charges once she got to court?

KMZ: Concerning the four corruption cases [that have already been submitted to the court], we weren’t told whether she was interrogated beforehand. Normally, the commission officer would have to look over the case and submit a report, and only under the anti-corruption commission’s approval would the charges be filed. The law states that the suspect would have to be examined beforehand. What’s most important is whether the case is legitimate or not. Another thing to take into consideration is whether the examination process was done in accordance with the law. I say this because the junta’s anti-corruption committee itself is not as ‘clean’ as their name implies.

MN: Does that mean that it is a regular procedure for the commission officer to interrogate the defendant before they are sent to the court?

KMZ: Yes. The commission officer is like a police officer, so the report they would be making is the same as a police report. You could think of it as a police officer interrogating both the defendant and the plaintiff.

Aung San Suu Kyi is seen with Min Aung Hlaing at a ceremony in Naypyitaw on January 4, 2020 (Myanmar President Office / Facebook)

MN: The military council is now using Phyo Min Thein as a witness. What could this lead to, legally?

KMZ: We can’t disclose any details because we don’t want to leak the information we are going to use in court. We don’t know why they didn’t take action against the alleged bribe giver. Legally, the one who offers the bribe is also guilty in a corruption case.

MN: Phyo Min Thein’s voice was barely audible at last week’s court hearing, as you have said, and you told us that he didn’t make eye contact with Aung San Suu Kyi. Can you also describe how she acted during the hearing? 

KMZ: He was already one of the witnesses in the case file but she only got her copy of the case file on the morning of the hearing. So we didn’t know that he would be coming that day. The judge only said that it was a “civilian witness who was difficult to summon.” We only found out it was him when he came into the room. She wasn’t very surprised to see him, though. She just kept staring at him, in her typical manner. She just sat still and stared. Phyo Min Thein was standing with his back to her, facing the judge.

MN: How long did Phyo Min Thein take to make the statement? Did Aung San Suu Kyi say anything at all during that time?

KMZ: Nothing. She was just staring at him for 30 minutes.

MN: How do you plan to deal with this lawsuit? 

KMZ: Everything including how we are going to defend her in court, which routes we are going to take, how we are going to use the information that there was no physical evidence and what strings we will pull are all confidential. We can’t disclose any of that.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal team will cross-examine Phyo Min Thein on October 8.

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