Aung San Suu Kyi appears in closed court on corruption charges
Aung San Suu Kyi has appeared in a closed court to face allegations of corruption, one of the most serious of a number of legal charges filed against the ousted leader by the military junta.
In a hearing at the Naypyidaw Council compound, Aung San Suu Kyi was accused of breaching the anti-corruption law in four cases. This includes accepting packets of US bank notes and gold bars in bribes from Yangon’s former chief minister, Phyo Min Thein; renting government land at a discount; and using funds of the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a charity founded by Aung San Suu Kyi in the name of her mother, to build a home.
The anti-corruption law carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, more than any other case facing the former leader. She is also accused of breaching the official secrets act, which it is believed could lead to 14 years in prison.
Analysts and human rights groups have condemned the allegations as a politically motivated attempt to discredit her, while the UN has reiterated calls for her immediate release.
In court on Friday, Phyo Min Thein, who has previously appeared on military TV claiming he gave bribes to Aung San Suu Kyi on multiple occassions, was among those who testified. “He seemed to be depressed and didn’t look at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi even when he walked in front of her,” said her defence lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw.
The exact value of the alleged bribes described in court is not known. However, state media has previously accused her of accepting $600,000 (£445,000) in cash and 11.4kg of gold.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal team asked the judge to postpone the case, saying they had not received instructions from their client. She had only received police papers on Friday morning, Khin Maung Zaw said.
The judge said he would adjourn the cross-examination by the defence lawyers but the examination of the witness would continue.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 76, has had very limited opportunities to meet with her lawyers to prepare for the legal charges filed against her, which could lead to her spending decades in prison. She has been held in detention since 1 February, when the military seized power in a coup, prompting defiant protests by the public, which the military has attempted to suppress with brutal violence. Myanmar has since been gripped by worsening conflict, the collapse of health services and an economic crisis. The country’s currency, the kyat, has lost more than 60% of its value since the start of September, causing food and fuel price rises.
On Thursday, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said in a report to the general assembly that a coordinated international approach was needed to respond to “grave humanitarian implications, including rapidly deteriorating food security, an increase in mass displacements and a weakened public health system compounded by a new wave of Covid-19 infections”.
He also reiterated calls for the release of all people arbitrarily detained. More than 8,000 have been arrested since the coup, and more than 1,100 people killed, according to UN estimates. At least 120 have reportedly died in custody
Aung San Suu Kyi’s corruption case will resume next Friday in Naypyidaw, while a fifth case under the anti-corruption law is also expected to be heard by the Yangon region high court.Court hearings involving several other cases against her are ongoing. This includes charges that she breached a natural disaster law by breaking coronavirus restrictions during campaigning for last year’s election, and that she broke a communications law and an import law by illegally possessing walkie-talkies.
Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said there were serious procedural concerns regarding the cases. “Myanmar’s military junta seems determined to rush forward with the prosecution of Aung San Suu Kyi despite ongoing failures to provide her with adequate access to her counsel,” he said.
“It’s clear that the junta sees her as their primary political threat and wants to put her behind bars as quickly as possible for as long as possible,” said Robertson.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in last year’s election but the military refused to accept the result. It alleged widespread fraud, with no evidence. Such claims have been dismissed by observers, including the independent group Asian Network for Free Elections.Despite international condemnation and efforts by neighbouring countries to negotiate, the military has shown no willingness to compromise. It had previously promised to hold elections within 12 months of the coup, but the army chief, Min Aung Hlaing, has since extended this timeline to August 2023.