Myanmar Tycoon, Port Operator Sanctioned by U.S. on Anniversary of Military Coup

Canada and the U.K. joined the U.S. to designate three Myanmar coup government officials

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By Samuel Rubenfeld

January 31, 2022

A notorious Myanmar businessman with long-standing ties to the military, two of his adult children and the operator of a port in Yangon were sanctioned by the U.S. as part of a coordinated action by three Western countries to coincide with the anniversary of the coup.

The Myanmar military has attempted to consolidate power in the year since the coup by spreading fear, killing innocent people, and targeting political opposition leaders and peaceful demonstrators, the U.S. Treasury Department said. The military’s control over resources and a lack of transparency contribute to significant corruption in Myanmar, according to the Treasury.

“One year after the coup, the United States, along with allies in the United Kingdom and Canada, stands with the people of Burma as they seek freedom and democracy,” said Brian E. Nelson, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a statement.

The Myanmar military seized power on Feb. 1, 2021 and declared a state of emergency, citing fraud in November 2020 elections. On Monday, the military extended the state of emergency for another six months, saying violence continues in some regions, according to a media report. The military has struggled to maintain control and isn’t recognized internationally. More than 1,500 people have died at the hands of security forces, a human rights group said. 

The latest U.S. action comes days after the release of an advisory warning about the risks of doing business in Myanmar, citing, among other things, the military’s role in human rights abuses and its facilitation of corruption. The U.K. and Canada also coordinated with the U.S. to impose sanctions on three Myanmar coup government officials. Though the European Union didn’t announce new designations on Monday, it threatened to do so in the future.

“The United States will continue to work with our international partners to address human rights abuses and press the regime to cease the violence, release all those unjustly detained, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and restore Burma’s path to democracy,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken, using the country’s other name.

Tay Za, who was sanctioned Monday for operating in the defense sector of the Myanmar economy, owns multiple companies known to provide equipment and services to the country’s military. His two adult children, Htoo Htet Tay Za and Pye Phyo Tay Za, are instrumental to his business dealings, according to the Treasury. Tay Za also was part of a May 2021 Myanmar military delegation to Russia that was led by a general under U.S. sanctions, the Treasury said.  

Tay Za and his son Pye Phyo Tay Za were named in the annex of a 2007 U.S. executive order, but they were delisted in 2016 amid a burgeoning democratic period in Myanmar. 

Tay Za was sanctioned in September 2021 by the U.K., and he and Pye Phyo Tay Za are listed by Canada. His company, the Htoo Group, wasn’t named by the U.S. but it too is sanctioned by the U.K. and listed by Canada. Htoo Group has companies in a wide range of economic sectors and it was named by a United Nations fact-finding mission in 2019 as one of the “largest crony companies” in Myanmar, Kharon reported in September 2021.

KT Services & Logistics Company Limited (KTSL) has operated the TMT Port in Yangon since 2016, leasing it from the military holding conglomerate the Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) for USD 3 million a year, according to the Treasury.  Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung, director of KTSL and chief executive of its parent company, was also sanctioned. MEHL was sanctioned by the U.S. in March 2021, and it is subject to export controls.  

Both Tay Za and Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung, and their companies, were on a list released earlier this month by the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) for aiding the Myanmar military by brokering arms deals, according to media reports. The NUG, formed in the months after the coup, says it aims to end military rule and restore democracy.

Meanwhile, the U.S., U.K. and Canada together sanctioned the Myanmar Attorney General ​​Thida Oo, Myanmar Chief Justice Tun Tun Oo and Anti-Corruption Commission Chairman Tin Oo. 

They were all appointed to their roles in the days following the coup, according to the U.K. Each of their offices has been involved in bringing politically motivated charges against pro-democracy leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the U.S. Treasury said.

The designations come hours after the Myanmar military filed new charges against Aung San Suu Kyi for allegedly influencing election officials during the vote in 2020, a source told AFP. A de facto civilian leader of the country who won a Nobel laureate, she has been in custody since the day of the coup. Aung San Suu Kyi already faces a raft of separate charges, and if convicted on all of them could face more than 100 years in prison, the AFP report said.

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