UDP chair Kyaw Myint charged with absconding

Kyaw Myint, the chair of the recently dissolved United Democratic Party (UDP), was formally charged by a court in Mandalay on Tuesday for absconding from prison 21 years ago.

Five witnesses, including the warden of Mandalay’s Obo prison at the time of Kyaw Myint’s escape, appeared at the Chan Aye Tharzan Township Court to testify in the case.

Former prison warden Aye Chan, who was identified by his monastic name U Indra Bartha at the hearing, received a nine-year sentence in 1999 for failing to prevent the breakout.

Also testifying were current Obo prison deputy supervisor Sithu Tin Myint and two police officers—Aung Myint Kyi and Kyaw Khaing— who were on safety duty when Kyaw Myint escaped.

Aung Min, the current chief of Mandalay’s Police Station No. 8, appeared on behalf of his predecessor Thein Htay, who filed the original charges against Kyaw Myint for fleeing police custody.    

The testimonies of these witnesses were deemed sufficient for a prosecution and a government legal advisor filed a motion to dismiss the remaining witnesses. 

The motion was accepted by the court and Kyaw Myint was charged under article 224 of the penal code with absconding while serving a prison sentence.

“Kyaw Myint has pleaded not guilty, but it is clear that he absconded, and so he has been charged,” said Chan Aye Tharzan Township Court judge Kyaw Myo Win.

The UDP leader appeared in court wearing a mask and other protective gear to avoid becoming infected with Covid-19. When the judge asked U Indra Bartha to identify him, the monk requested that he remove his mask and confirmed that it was him.

“Kyaw Myint has pleaded not guilty, but it is clear that he absconded, and so he has been charged,” said Chan Aye Tharzan Township Court judge Kyaw Myo Win.

Kyaw Myint’s arraignment will begin on October 23. No additional charges were laid against him, according to court details.

His lawyer, Nay Lin Tun, noted that the initial case file was missing from police records. However, he declined to comment on what significance this might have for his client’s defense.

“On the missing documents, the effect of it would depend on the judge. I don’t want to make any other remarks,” he said.

A number of UDP members showed up at the hearing to offer support for their beleaguered leader. As he was leaving the court in a prison truck, several people shouted, “May Kyaw Myint be healthy.”

The UDP had planned to contest in over 1,130 constituencies nationwide in the upcoming election, but was dissolved by the Union Election Commission (UEC) on October 17 for allegedly receiving illegal funding.

Kyaw Myint’s conviction in the 1990s related to a company he owned called Myanmar Kyone Yeom.  

He was charged for breaches of the Myanmar Company Act but the US State Department later suggested his company was involved in laundering drug money for the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

The 69-year-old Kyaw Myint, who also goes by the names of Michael Kyaw Myint, Hua Hu, and Zakhung Zung Sau, was sent to prison for nine years on January 1, 1998, under two charges.

After escaping, he sought asylum in America and later in Canada. It was while he was living in Canada that he founded the UDP in 2007. 

The party was first registered in Myanmar on May 26, 2010, when the country was still under military rule. It contested its first election later that year, but failed to win any seats.

It performed equally poorly in 2015, even after Kyaw Myint returned to Myanmar in 2013 to assume the position of party chair.

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