In Myanmar, a remarkable Burmese family quietly equipped a brutal military


Ultimately, the story of the Kyaw Thaungs resembles that of Myanmar: a land of enormous potential, foiled by a ruthless military and families willing to compromise in search of its riches.

The Kyaw Thaungs used their family ties to sign lucrative contracts for the supply of European aircraft and a French coastal surveillance system to the military. According to a former company employee and an email discussing the offer, they are lending themselves to a deal to supply Italian weapons to the Navy. A relative, a former general who was both energy minister and chairman of the national investment commission, officially approved deals that Kyaw Thaung companies had entered into with military-related companies or with the military itself.

To hide the true source of their wealth, they formed a tangle of businesses in jurisdictions that stretch from the British Virgin Islands to Singapore. Some of them were opened and closed with a single deal, and they depended on ownership structures that sometimes obscured the involvement of family members.

Some of the family’s military procurements were designed to bypass Western export controls to prevent the Tatmadaw from reinforcing their command, according to international sanctions experts and five former company employees. Coastal radar technology, for example, may have violated such rules: it was operational when Rohingya Muslims tried to escape a military massacre that UN investigators believe could constitute genocide.

One of the family businesses donated more than $ 40,000 to the Tatmadaw for what the United Nations called a cover-up on the site of ethnic cleansing. A 2019 UN report on the military’s persecution of the Rohingya highlights this post.

In interviews, Mr. Jonathan Kyaw Thaung denied inappropriateness, saying his relationship with the military was no more than any other business deal in Myanmar. He said his relatives, including his father, did not supply the Tatmadaw with military equipment and that other families were the real arms dealers in the country. He noted that his grandfather, who started the family business, stayed away from fishing or cattle trafficking because doing so would violate Buddhist prohibitions on killing.

Mr Jonathan Kyaw Thaung, 39, said in a later interview that he was not close to his father, U Moe Kyaw Thaung, and that he did not know exactly what kind of business his father was pursuing. He said it was incorrect to speak of a family business because he and his father ran separate businesses. (He was a director of one of his father’s firms and is currently a director of another.)


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