Rising Concerns Over Corruption Among High-Ranking Military Council Generals

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – September 19 
Published by MoeMaKa on September 20, 2023

Rising Concerns Over Corruption Among High-Ranking Military Council Generals

In recent weeks, reports of high-ranking military council leaders facing corruption allegations have stirred the public, and it appears that these allegations are becoming increasingly substantiated. Notably, Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun, a figure of significant trust within the military and ranked fifth in the military council hierarchy, has been suspended from his position and is currently under questioning, as reported by BBC Burmese news.

What initially began as investigations into palm oil importers regarding corruption in the licensing of foreign palm oil imports—a staple commodity widely used by the public—has led authorities to uncover links to General Yan Naung Soe, Secretary of the Trade and Commodity Acceleration Working Committee responsible for issuing these licenses. This trail of evidence eventually pointed to committee chairman Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun.

The issue surrounding palm oil is perceived to have arisen due to a sudden fluctuation in the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Myanmar kyat. To conserve foreign currency, the military council decided to focus on imports of essential commodities like edible oil and fuel, which require significant foreign currency expenditures. Consequently, they placed restrictions on granting import licenses, limiting the quantities available for import. This, in turn, caused a surge in palm oil prices, reaching about 13,000 kyats per viss. Comparatively, in neighboring Thailand, 50 ticals of palm oil can be purchased for a mere $1.15, while in Myanmar, the price can reach up to 6,500 kyats. Despite the edible oil import association specifying a lower price, palm oil is predominantly sold at market rates ranging from 12,000 to 13,000 kyats. These circumstances strongly suggest the existence of bribery practices reaching up to the ranks of generals and lieutenant generals, as revealed through investigations into the president of the edible oil import business association and some businessmen.

The exploitation of power and the pursuit of self-interest by military leaders have been long-standing open secrets. Many generals have allowed their family members to establish companies, securing privileges, acquiring military-related ministry tenders, and accumulating substantial wealth. This practice dates back to the days of previous military regimes, such as the SLORC and SPDC. Numerous former generals have also held ministerial positions, including figures like U Than Shwe, U Shwe Mann, and U Aung Thaung. Even during the administrations of U Thein Sein and the NLD, these interests remained relatively unscathed, with the emergence of new generals filling the vacuum over time.

Given this entrenched practice, questions arise as to why the Trade and Commodity Acceleration Working Committee secretary and chairman have initiated actions now. This case, stemming from the investigation into the inflated palm oil prices, has reached a point where it implicates the highest-ranking military leader, Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun, who is trusted by military council leader Min Aung Hlaing. If Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun were to retire, it is widely speculated that he would succeed as the military council leader. In this complex situation, it poses a difficult decision for military leader Min Aung Hlaing, who must choose between making an exception for his close confidant or taking action. However, since the military council seized power, the opposition leaders of the NLD, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Win Myint, along with numerous cabinet members, were penalized and faced corruption charges. Thus, turning a blind eye to this corruption case is no longer a viable option. They will likely choose a course of action that involves their removal from all positions, a period of punishment, and potential amnesty.

While family businesses have not been viewed as a sin for military leaders, this move may serve as an effort to preserve their reputation by demonstrating intolerance towards the sort of bribery that has become public knowledge, thereby affecting the prices of everyday commodities.

The arrest and prosecution of a high-ranking lieutenant general on corruption charges may have significant implications for unity and political cohesion among military leaders. The willingness of military council leader Min Aung Hlaing to issue such arrest orders underscores the concentration of authority within the military leadership. It also serves as a stark reminder of Min Aung Hlaing’s influence and authority among the generals. It is too early to predict whether divisions will emerge among the generals or if any individuals within the military will attempt to challenge and replace Min Aung Hlaing.