Corruption trial of Myanmar’s Suu Kyi hears payoff claim

BANGKOK (AP) — A former ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader ousted in a February military takeover, testified at her corruption trial on Friday that he had handed to her large amounts of cash and gold in proceedings supporters say are meant to discredit her.

A Special Court in the capital Naypyitaw is hearing four corruption cases against Suu Kyi, each of which carries a penalty of up to 15 years’ imprisonment, the longest possible prison terms of the several offenses she has been charged with.

All the proceedings against the 76-year-old Suu Kyi are closed to the public and press. She has been detained by the military at an undisclosed location in Naypyitaw.

Like other top members of her party and government, Phyo Min Thein, who testified Friday, was arrested by the military when it took power on Feb 1. The allegations of payoffs were first raised in March by the military government and have been denied by her lawyers.

She faces two charges of accepting bribes and two of conspiring to carry out corruption in connection with real estate transactions. A fifth corruption charge has not yet gone to trial.

Phyo Min Thein, a top figure in Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party who held the important job of chief minister for Yangon Region before the military seized power, testified for the prosecution. He said that he had personally handed over $600,000 and seven gold bars to Suu Kyi in 2017-18, lawyer Min Soe said.

The military at a March news conference had presented a videotape of Phyo Min Thein making the same allegations. In his court testimony, he added that he presented Suu Kyi with a statue from a prominent Buddhist monk, Min Soe said.

Suu Kyi’s supporters and independent analysts say all the charges against her are politically motivated and an attempt to discredit her and legitimize the military’s seizure of power while keeping her from returning to politics.

Suu Kyi is also being tried on lesser charges of sedition, two counts of flouting COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, illegally importing walkie-talkies and the unlicensed use of the radios.

Preparations have also begun to try her for breaching the official secrets law, which carried a maximum prison term of 14 years.

The military said it seized power because last November’s election, won in a landslide by Suu Kyi’s party, was tainted by massive fraud. Its claim has almost no independent support, and the takeover was quickly met by widespread public protests.

Security forces used deadly force to try to quash the peaceful protests, killing more than 1,100 people, according to the detailed tallies of the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners and human rights groups. Opponents of military rule have turned to armed self-defense, sabotage and killings of soldiers and officials on a near-daily basis.

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