Australian publisher arrested in Yangon drug sting

By OLIVER SLOW | FRONTIER

YANGON — Mr Ross Dunkley, the Australian co-founder of the Myanmar Times newspaper, was arrested during a late-night drug raid at his Yangon home on Wednesday, the Yangon Police Force has confirmed.

Eight other people were arrested in the raid, which took place at a house in Bahan Township’s Tharthana Yeiktha Ward at 9pm, the statement said. Police found 797 WY-brand methamphetamine pills, widely referred to as “yaba”, 313 grams of crystal methamphetamine, 16.5 grams of marijuana and 0.1 gram of heroin. Police said they also found other drugs, as well as a range of currencies, and seized 10 handsets and a Range Rover car.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is seeking to provide consular assistance “to an Australian detained in Myanmar”, a spokesperson confirmed to Frontier by email on Friday. “Owing to our privacy obligations we will not provide further comment.”

Those arrested were listed as Ross Stirling Dunkley, 60, who rented the home, and another foreigner the statement named as Mr John McKenzic, 63, who Frontier understands to be John McKenzie.

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The Myanmar nationals detained were U Thu Thu, aka Saw Mat Thu Shala, 48, from Insein Township; Ma Honey Soe, 23, from Tarmwe Towsnhip; Ma Win Win, 19, from Tarmwe Township; Ma Haymin Lwin, aka Nandar, 29, from Thaketa Township; Ma Thuzar, 21, from South Dagon Township; Ma Hnin Ei Khaing, aka Thawdar, 24, from Mingalardon Township; and Daw Tin Tin Win, 54, who the statement said was a housemaid.

In 2000, Dunkley co-founded the Myanmar Times — at the time the only privately owned newspaper in the country with foreign investment – together with U Sonny Swe, who is the publisher of Frontier.

In 2004, Sonny Swe and his father, Brigadier-General Thein Swe, a senior member of the Military Intelligence, were arrested as part of a purge of those deemed loyal to then-Prime Minister U Khin Nyunt. Thein Swe was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison, while Sonny Swe was sentenced to a total of 14 years. Sonny Swe was released in 2013, and his father a year later.

After his arrest, a controlling stake in the Myanmar Times was transferred to Dr Tin Tun Oo, a close associate of hardline Information Minister and Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan. In early 2015, Dunkley sold his shares in the paper.

This is not Dunkley’s first brush with the law in Myanmar. In 2011, he was arrested and spent 47 days in prison before being granted bail. He was later sentenced to a month in jail on assault and immigration charges but freed due to time already served.

In October 2017, Dunkley told Mediaweek in an interview that he was planning to establish “Beyond the Box Communications” in Myanmar, which he said would include a daily newspaper in English, 24-7 live streaming in Myanmar, a commercial printing factory, as well as events management and e-commerce.

By Oliver Slow

By Oliver Slow

Oliver Slow is a Southeast Asia-based journalist. He is a former Chief-of-Staff at Frontier, and is writing a book about Myanmar's transition.
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