Sunday, May 4, 2014

Shwe Mann: Parliament Speaker and Secret Billionaire?

Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann.
I wrote down this open letter as soon as I finished reading in the news-journals of our Dear Speaker General Shwe Mann’s press conference on October 27 (2013) proudly challenging the reporters attending the press conference that he and his family are willing and open to the public scrutiny of their many business interests in Burma and overseas.

That day the Honourable Parliament Speaker said, “My sons do not exploit me being a general for some time and now the Speaker of Parliament. I always force them to get advance in business on their own merit not on what their father is. I am confident in stating that fact and I dare anyone to point out if I have ever given them opportunity in any army-related business by using my position as an army general.”

I and all the rice-farmers in Irrawaddy Division would really want him to come back to our Irrawaddy Delta and say that again to our faces. In our Delta region there are so many farmers whose lives had been completely ruined by our Dear Speaker Shwe Mann’s son Aung Thet Mann’s own company “Ayeyar-Shwewar”. My family was one of those thousands of ruined farmers.

I am revealing it out aloud now only because of our Dear Speaker Shwe Mann’s shouting proudly from the top of pole of how decent he is when it comes to not letting his sons taking advantage of their father’s powerful positions all along. While their victims like us have been silently suffering all along just because of their unscrupulous business activities.

Aung Thet Mann’s Fertilizer Monopoly Scam In Irrawaddy Delta

When General Shwe Mann became the army-divisional-commander (with a warlord-like power) of our Irrawaddy Division in 1997 he gave Ayeyar-Shwewar Company owned by his son Aung Thet Mann the fertilizer distribution monopoly.

And then was the very beginning of now famously rich Aung Thet Mann’s Ayeyar-Shwewar company. And Shwe Mann’s whole family ruthlessly milked their first significant wealth out of us rice farmers of Irrawaddy Delta the rice bowl of our Burma.

Aung Thet Mann (and General Shwe Mann) had basically forced all the rice farmers in Delta -- through the local Government-Administrators at township and village levels -- to buy their very-cheaply-imported chemical fertilizers only from their family-owned Ayeyar-Shwewar.

Their loan-shark-liked tactic was quite simple. All rice farmers in Irrawaddy Delta were forced to take their chemical fertilizers as a loan at the beginning of harvest season without even telling us the exorbitant prices eventually charged for their fertilizers.

Some of us who were clever enough knew what could happen when our rice-paddy was harvested. So we were reluctant to take their fertilizers and get into their debt. And historically most of us poor rice-farmers also do not use chemical fertilizers at all as we traditionally used natural fertilizers like cow manure.

Shwe Mann's son Aung Thet Mann.
Even if some of us needed chemical-fertilizers we could go buy cheaply from all those Chinese and Indian shops from any nearby town any time. There was absolutely no need to take out a fertilizer loan from “Ayeyar-Shwewar” especially if you didn’t know how much it would eventually cost at the end of harvest.

But a Divisional Commander (Taing-Mhu) like General Shwe Mann is very powerful and ruthlessly brutal like those Chinese Warlords we read about in old books. The township and village bosses also told us that we just had to take it and there it was. Bags and bags of chemical fertilizers from China at our doorsteps. We just had to sign for them at the government’s village offices.

Whether we grew any crop or not we just had to take their chemical fertilizers from Ayeyar-Shwewar. The amount of Chemical fertilizers we farmers had to buy was allotted according to how many acres of paddy land we had and worked. That’s it, easy and simple.

The serious trouble started – as some of us had expected – only when the paddy was harvested. The Ayeyar-Shwewar agents supported by the village Administrators came and took away whatever quantity of rice-paddy they demanded and recorded unjustly in their loan-books.

Of course the prices for their cheap chemical fertilizers were exorbitantly exaggerated up while prices for our rice was unjustly pushed down so much that in many cases the rice-farmer had no rice left in his barn for his and his family’s own consumption let alone to sell at the markets as a fair return for his year-long hard labour.

Some families had to stop sending their kids to school as they could no longer afford their school expenses. Some even had to send their underage kids to nearby towns to work in the restaurants and shops as the families were starving.

Not just the rice farmers but also other fertilizer businesses went down as General Shwe Mann’s family tightly controlled the chemical fertilizers distribution in the whole Irrawaddy Delta. That year General Shwe Mann and his sons became enormously rich overnight while many farmers like me were losing their land holdings because of Ayeyar-Shwewar fertilizer debts.

Nowadays Aung Thet Mann’s “Ayeyar-Shwewar” is a mega company doing all sorts of hugely profitable businesses under all sorts of names and our Dear Speaker is rumoured to be worth many billion dollars US.

If our government is really willing to scrutinize Dear Speaker Shwe Mann’s family businesses as he himself is challenging, their very first action should be to come and talk to us the long-suffering rice-farmers in Irrawaddy Delta.

Phoe Thar Aung (A rice farmer from Irrawaddy Delta)


¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Most observers view General "Thura" Shwe Mann, the Burmese regime's number three, as Senior General  Than Shwe's preferred successor.  Infrequently seen in public, Shwe Mann quietly runs the Ministry of Defense and appears to have the respect of officers of all ranks.  More than a decade younger than the two top leaders, Shwe Mann played a lead role in the ouster of former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, but Shwe Mann appears to also have crony business connections and complicity in human right violations. Sources claim Shwe Mann is a reformer, who once consolidates power, would open Burma to more international engagement. This could be nothing more than wishful thinking. 



¶2. (C) Shwe Mann was born on July 11, 1947 in Kanyuntkwin, Bago Division.  He graduated from the Defense Services Academy at Pyin Oo Lwin in 1969 in Intake Batch 11.  He rose through the ranks and distinguished himself during the campaign to capture the Karen National Union's headquarters at Maner Plaw in 1989, for which he received the title "Thura" (brave hero).  Like most Burmese field commanders, Shwe Mann utilized forced civilian porters, including women and children, on a massive scale during operations against Karen insurgents.

¶3. (C) He served in the 66th Light Infantry Division in Bago from 1991-1996, when he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and named Commander of 11 Light Infantry Division in Rangoon.  In November 1997, he was named a member of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and went to Pathein in Ayeyarwady Division as the Southwest Region Commander.  He served concurrently as the Chairman of the Ayeyarwady Peace and Development Council.  In 2001, a panel of ten commanding officers promoted him by secret ballot to the post of Joint Chief of Staff of the Army, Navy, and Air Force and promoted him to Lieutenant General.  In October 2003, he was promoted to Chief of General Staff of the Armed Services with the rank of General.


¶4. (C) Shwe Mann is a trusted lieutenant of Senior General Than Shwe and has served as his hatchet man on several occasions.  According to some sources, Than Shwe bypassed his deputy, Maung Aye, and then-Prime Minister Khin Nyunt when he ordered the attack on Aung San Suu Kyi's convoy at Depeyin in May 2003.  He ordered lower-ranking officers to carry it out, with Shwe Mann responsible for the military aspects.  After Shwe Mann informed Maung Aye of the order, according to one contact (ref C), Maung Aye ordered him to proceed.  In October 2004, Shwe Mann again played a lead role in the arrest of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and his military intelligence network on charges of corruption.  Thus, some observers conclude that Shwe Mann is loyal to both Maung Aye and Than Shwe and enjoys their trust.  Senior and junior officers of the three military branches also respect Shwe Mann.  When Than Shwe took an emergency health trip to Singapore in late December 2006, Shwe Mann, not Maung Aye, reportedly managed the day-to-day affairs of state and received visiting Chinese dignitaries.  The latter point is not surprising, given Maung Aye's well-known anti-Chinese sentiments.


¶5. (C) Shwe Mann is married to Khin Lay Thet.  Like most wives of the top generals, she is a member of the Panel of Patrons and one of four vice presidents of the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation.  They have three sons who are included with their parents on the EU's visa ban and financial sanctions lists.

-- Son: Aung Thet Mann.  He owns a company named Ayeya Shwe Wa Company.
-- Son: Toe Naing Mann.  He married Zay Zin Latt (DOB: March 24, 1981), the daughter of Khin Shwe, a well-known entrepreneur and former "caterer" for Khin Nyunt.  Khin Shwe's company, Zaykaba Co. Ltd. operates the Karaweik Restaurant, a structure on Kandawgyi Lake in Rangoon shaped like a golden duck.
-- Son: Shwe Mann Ko Ko.  He was married in late 2006.  Than Shwe reportedly advised Shwe Mann to hold a quiet ceremony, following domestic and international criticism of the ostentatious wedding of Than Shwe's daughter a few months earlier.

¶6. (C) After the arrest of Khin Nyunt, Shwe Mann famously said, "Nobody is above the law."  While he may not be as notoriously corrupt as some of his colleagues, Shwe Mann has solid connections to regime business cronies.  He is reported to be a director in Tay Za's Htoo Construction Company, and is also allegedly involved in fertilizer, brokerage, and fish export businesses.  In addition, his sons are reported to use their father's connections to advance their business interests.


¶7. (C) Shwe Mann visited India in December 2006 to appeal for more armaments for his military forces (ref D).  He appears to be a strong proponent of closer ties with India.  He traveled to Pakistan in late 2006 to attend the Idea 2006 arms show in Karachi.  He has also visited Thailand, Bangladesh, and China (ref B).  Observers cite these recent travels as evidence of Shwe Mann's preparations to assume higher responsibilities.


¶8. (C) Most observers believe that Than Shwe wants Shwe Mann to succeed him as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Senior General.  Than Shwe reportedly has serious health issues and wants to retire, but fears that if Maung Aye remains in power after he retires, Maung Aye might sack senior military officers loyal to Than Shwe, who would protect Than Shwe's interests and his family.  Shwe Mann is nearly 15 years younger than Than Shwe and a decade younger than Maung Aye.  Unlike SPDC numbers one and two, Shwe Mann has no known health issues.  He prudently spends most of his time running the Ministry of Defense and keeps a low public profile.

¶9. (C) Some sources claim Shwe Mann is pro-reform and would move the country back into the mainstream once he consolidates power.  Our sources have told us that they have written critical analyses proposing reforms that they believe have been passed to Shwe Mann.  The Track II dialogue with the EU (ref A) has also reportedly been initiated on Shwe Mann's behalf.  Thus far, Shwe Mann has given no hints of his policy direction and will probably wait until Than Shwe and Maung Aye leave the scene to reveal his hand.  In the meantime, he will continue to wait patiently for his turn at the top.

ASSK, President Thein Sein, Speaker Shwe mann, & General Min Aung Hlaing.