The curious case of Phyo Ko Ko Tint San

Police are yet to determine the son of a former government minister’s motivation for collecting such a heavy arsenal of weapons.

By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER

THE ARREST last week of the son of a former government minister for possessing drugs and a heavy collection of weapons captured headlines across the country. But almost a week after U Phyo Ko Ko Tint San – the son of former sports and tourism minister U Tint San, who owns ACE Group of Companies – and two associates were detained at Nay Pyi Taw airport, police in the capital are yet to determine what the weapons were being used for.

What do we know so far?

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, who is also chairman of the Myanmar Archery Federation, was arrested alongside U Ye Min Swe and U Zaw Win, both who are former selectors for the country’s archery team. A letter signed by Minister for Health and Sports Dr Myint Htwe, and seen by Frontier showed that the pair had resigned from the ministry on September 19.

At the time of their arrest they were employed by ACE Group, according to a statement released by the Myanmar Police Force on October 16.

The trio arrived at Nay Pyi Taw airport in the early evening of October 15, and shortly after 7pm police found pistols, bullets, illicit drugs and communication devices, including walkie talkies, in a backpack belonging to Phyo Ko Ko Tint San.

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Within hours, police in the capital began conducting a search at ACE Hotel, where the three men had been staying, where they found more weaponry, including guns and bullets. A day later, a search of the ACE headquarters in Yangon’s Thaketa Township revealed more weapons, including an M16 rifle, an M4 carbine replica, as well as more arms accessories and communication devices, according to a statement released on October 17.

More military paraphernalia was found after police searched the home of Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, and as of October 17 police say they have seized equipment including guns, bullets, drones, cars, bullet proof coats and drugs. More than 1,000 bullets have been seized in total, according to a release.

Police Colonel Zaw Khin Aung, head of the Nay Pyi Taw Police Force, said that more details about what has been found will be released in the future.

“We have been searching continuously and have searched many places,” he told Frontier.

According to a statement released by the police on the morning of October 18, a total of 12 people, including Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, have been arrested in relation to the case. It is not clear where Phyo Ko Ko Tint San is being detained.

On October 18, Zaw Khin Aung told Frontier that Phyo Ko Ko Tint San had admitted that the arms seized in Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon had been imported through the black market at Myawaddy, a key trading point with Thailand in Kayin State.

“Since he was chairman of the Nay Pyi Taw Football Club, when his teams went there, he asked his staff to bring the arms from Myawaddy,” said Zaw Khin Aung, adding that some of the arms were bought by Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, while others were given to him as presents.

Police believe they are still searching for more weapons, after they found five sniper telescopes, for which the guns have not been seized.

Zaw Khin Aung said an investigation into the missing weapons was continuing.

Who is Phyo Ko Ko Tint San?

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San is the owner of Nay Pyi Taw Football Club. The club was founded in 2009 as ACE FC before changing to its current name a year later. However, the club was dismissed from the Myanmar National League in September after failing to pay its players and staff for almost five months.

He is an active director in many family businesses, including ACE Group of Companies, which was awarded contracts to construct many buildings in Nay Pyi Taw, including the national parliament and ACE Hotel, which was used by high-level dignitaries during ASEAN meetings when Myanmar was its chair in 2014.

One of the companies, Bawga Theiddhi catering service, which is under the ACE group, often provides catering services during state-level ceremonies and hluttaw sessions. ACE Group is also involved in the hotels and tourism and machinery industries.

Closely linked to the Union Solidarity and Development Party, his father won a seat for the party in the 2010 election, before resigning to take the sport and hotel portfolios. Phyo Ko Ko Tint San ran on the USDP ticket for a Pyithu Hluttaw seat in Ayeyarwady Region’s Myangmya Township in the 2015 election, but was easily defeated by U Mahn Johnny of the National League for Democracy.

What are the charges?

Although a case was originally opened under Section 19(f) of the Arms Act, which punishes unlicensed possession of firearms, the three arrested at Nay Pyi Taw airport are now being charged under Section 19(a), which punishes “unlicensed manufacture, conversion and sale” of firearms, and carries a sentence of between three and seven years imprisonment.

He is also being charged under three sections of the drug law: Sections 15, 16(d) and Section 22(b).

On October 19, Zaw Khin Aung told Frontier that three new charges had been opened: Article 61(a) of the State Secrets Act for unauthorised use of the logo of the National Security Council on cars and uniforms, which carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment, Article 67 of the Telecommunications Act for keeping walkie-talkies, a maximum one-year sentence, and Article 8 of the Export/Import Law for the import of products without official permission, which carries a maximum three-year jail term.

“Those who broke the law with him are his staff. No one from outside,” said Zaw Khin Aung. He refused to reveal more details about the case.

What next?

Many questions remain about the case. How did Phyo Ko Ko Tint San manage to get arms to Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw? And what was the purpose for assembling such an arsenal? These are questions that the police have so far been unable to answer.

Even before this incident, Phyo Ko Ko Tint San would regularly post photos on his Facebook page of him wearing army uniform, wielding heavy weapons.

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San told police he was intending to establish a security company, said Zaw Khin Aung.

“We are making a detailed investigation and will let you know in due course,” he said.

For independent lawyer U Kyi Myint, the most important role for the police is to establish exactly what the intended use of the weapons was.

“Since many weapons were found, we must find the main purpose for them. There are more guns than [what is required for] self-defense. We must wait and see the actions of the police,” he said.

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