Zeyar Phyo played role of ‘commander’ in Ko Ni’s murder, says prosecution lawyer

After two years and more than 100 hearings, Ko Ni’s murderers were finally sentenced last week. The gunman, Kyi Lin, got the death sentence, as did Aung Zaw Win, the man accused of hiring him for the killing.

Zeyar Phyo, accused of bankrolling the assassination, received five years for falsifying evidence. But prosecution lawyer Nay La said he will appeal the decision because he was not sentenced for conspiracy to murder despite being charged with that crime.

A fourth man, Aung Win Tun, received three years for harbouring one of the criminals, while a fifth, Aung Win Khaing, has evaded arrest. He has been identified as the alleged mastermind.

Another prosecution lawyer Khin Maung Htay, who has reviewed information provided by over 100 witnesses, says he believes Zeyar Phyo played the role of “commander” in the plot to kill Ko Ni.

He met with Myanmar Now ahead of last week’s verdict to discuss how the case played out.

Q: Officials have said the motive for this murder was extreme nationalism. After two years of hearings, what is your view on the motive?

A: It is obvious Kyi Lin is the shooter in this case. U Ko Ni was holding a child at the time of incident. There are pictures of Kyi Lin aiming a gun. After Kyi Lin was arrested, police investigated who was behind the murder. Kyi Lin confessed since the beginning that it was Myint Swe who asked him to commit the crime.

The case was solved because of Ko Aung Soe [a former cellmate of Aung Win Zaw and Kyi Lin in prison]. Ko Aung Win Zaw once tried to hire him to commit a murder in public. When he saw Kyi Lin’s [photo, which went viral in Facebook], he testified it could be Aung Win Zaw who supervised and monitored Kyi Lin. When they rewatched the airport CCTV footage to check if he was telling the truth, they found Kyi Lin and Aung Win Zaw were closed to each other.

It seemed like it was Kyi Lin’s first time at the international airport. So, Aung Zaw Win was walking in front of Kyi Lin to show him the way. It was shown on the CCTV footage. Aung Win Zaw led the way till the exit where U Ko Ni was supposed to come out. Kyi Lin followed behind. We saw that. So, Kyi Lin was closely supervised by Aung Win Zaw. They were together. We realised Myint Swe was Aung Win Zaw.

Kyi Lin was saying till the last moment that he was threatened and forced to commit the murder. But it was obvious from CCTV footage that the crime was premeditated. If he was threatened to make him do the murder, then his job was done after the killing. He didn’t need the gun anymore. He could have dropped the gun and left. If only he dropped the gun after his job was done, Ko Nay Win [a taxi driver who pursued him] would not have died. So, it was pretty certain Kyi Lin and Aung Win Zaw were involved. We saw that.

Another thing is Aung Win Khaing [the fugitive] was at the airport two hours before they arrived. We have the telephone records. When we matched the CCTV footage and telephone records, we found Aung Win Zaw and Kyi Lin came because Aung Win Khaing called them. Aung Win Khaing was still at the airport after the incident [but] we didn’t see how he left. So it was obvious the case was premeditated and all three of them were involved in the case. I can’t tell their motive but I am sure it is not for money or personal hatred.

A memorial service to mark the two-year anniversary of Sayar U Ko Ni’s death was held the other day. Sayar Monywa U Aung Shin [a top NLD official] said it was a political assassination because it hindered the progression of the National League for Democracy party. [The home affairs minister said during a press conference] that the youth became extremists because of ultra-nationalist sentiments. What he said could be 95 percent true.

Q: Zeyar Phyo was suspected of supporting the plot financially but he pleaded not guilty. What was his role in the case?

It became apparent that Ko Aung Win Khaing and Zeyar Phyo were quite close. The question is to what extent? We think Ko Aung Win Khaing, U Lin Zaw Htun [a USDP MP and former assistant to the military commander-in-chief] and Zeyar Phyo are birds of a feather. Ko Zeyar Phyo said the two were his friends but maintained they were neither business partners nor close friends, that they just knew each other. So we have to see the reason why these three joined hands.

[Aung Win Khaing, who] was said to have no business or social connections [with Zeyar Phyo] came to his office in Nay Pyi Taw to burn and destroy evidence supposedly related to the case.

Ko Zeyar Phyo’s staff helped him at that time. These people had no relationship with Ko Aung Win Khaing. They were Ko Zeyar Phyo’s right hand men. We see in this case that Ko Aung Win Khaing was the boss and ordered the other three around. Where did he get this authority over them? I think he got it from Ko Zeyar Phyo.

Ko Zeyar Phyo and Ko Aung Win Khaing had been contacting each other on the phone until 28 January 2017. Police and the prosecution said this was related to the crime, but the defendants denied this and asked if the prosecution had any proof. After they admitted they had contacted each other, they wouldn’t say what they had talked about. Since they couldn’t be honest, [I think] their relationship was related to the crime.

Ko Aung Soe was told there was 100 million kyat to cover expenses [when he was approached to carry out a murder]. It is clear now what Aung Win Khaing, Aung Win Zaw and Kyi Lin got. They had enough money to use. Who provided the money? Ko Aung Win Khaing didn’t have that much money. It came from a source with good cash flow; it was Zeyar Phyo that gave the financial support.

The police chief said [during the press conference] that Zeyar Phyo was the supporter and accomplice, and that was correct. If I have to say what I think, Zeyar Phyo was the commander. He wasn’t at the airport at the time of incident. Right! A commander doesn’t need to be at the airport. A company director can oversee his business from home or hospital or anywhere in the world, if he has a phone or a computer. He didn’t need to be at the place of incident, and he was able to give direction about what to do. He gave directions until the 28th.

Another thing is Ko Zeyar Phyo’s alibi [which showed he was at another place at the time of incident]. He knew when it would happen. So he went shopping. That’s the alibi. He entered monkhood the next day. After Kyi Lin was arrested, three more people were charged. One went to Hpa-an. Another went to Nay Pyi Taw and one entered the monkhood. Don’t you think it could be that they went into hiding to evade arrest?

Q: Will the case be resolved when these people are sentenced?

The case was opened by police but the investigation ended at Zeyar Phyo. No one has been charged after Zeyar Phyo. But if you knew the details, you could probe more. They said a group of young people became ultra-nationalists because they thought and talked about nationalism too much. So there could have been discussions on nationalism. They could have had supporters. We could say who would have been the likely supporters.

But it was found that before leaving for Nay Pyi Taw, Ko Aung Win Khaing visited his friend U Lin Zaw Htun  and gave him 1 million kyats because he didn’t have money to use. Then, Ko Aung Win Khaing went to Nay Pyi Taw, and met the people he wanted to meet. Then he disappeared. We still can’t find him. So it is certain he is involved in the case.

Another thing is an assassination like that can’t be done without money. Since it was carefully planned, where did the money come from? We have the information that Ko Zeyar Phyo gave lots of financial support. I don’t know how the court sees the facts, so the case ends here.

Police tried to get solid evidence to speed up the case. We questioned 72 plaintiff’s witnesses and 40 defendant’s witnesses. There were about 100 hearings. We questioned 112 witnesses within that time. The hearings were done efficiently in a reasonably short time. This is the best investigation we’ve ever had. I’ve worked as a lawyer since 1980. I think this investigation is the fastest and the most truthful in 40 years.

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