Journalists were not allowed into a Thaketa Township court on Tuesday where ACE Group chairman Phyo Ko Ko Tint San and three other defendants were on trial for illegal firearms possession.
Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, 41, is the son of Myanmar’s former sports minister and himself once a parliamentary candidate for the military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party. He was arrested on Oct. 15, 2017, along with two of his employees at the Naypyidaw airport after two guns, 72 bullets, 12 yaba pills, and 1.5 grams of crystal meth were found in his backpack.
Police later seized around 30 firearms, along with quantities of bullets and drugs, from ACE hotels, company property, and Phyo Ko Ko Tint San’s homes in Naypyitaw and Yangon. The Criminal Investigation Department has charged 15 people with 17 counts of illegal firearms and drug possession.
However, despite the public interest in the case and the fact that Myanmar’s courts have acknowledged that law requires them to give access to journalists, several reporters were shut out of the court compound on Tuesday and told they needed to register in advance and receive an admission card in order to cover the trial.
The trial date and time had not been confirmed before that day, meaning journalists had only a tiny window of time in which they could have registered.
The barring of journalists from the court proceedings appears to have been orchestrated to benefit the powerful defendant since journalists have been allowed to cover other high-profile cases where the defendants were not cronies.
In addition to the firearms and drug charges, Phyo Ko Ko Tint San has also been charged under the Official Secrets Act because the logo of the National Security Council (NSC) was found on his car and because he possessed bullet-proof jackets resembling those worn by the bodyguards of President Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. This section of the forbids the use of official uniforms to gain access to restricted areas and carries a penalty of two years in prison.
Phyo Ko Ko Tint San has attempted to defend his actions by saying he was amassing arms to start a security company, even though Myanmar law does not allow private companies to provide armed security services.
The mogul’s next hearing is scheduled for Friday.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has since taken over the case and has charged 15 suspects including U Phyo Ko Ko Tint San for illegal possession of firearms and illicit drugs as well as under the Telecommunications Law for keeping walkie-talkies, the Export/Import Law for keeping drones and the State Secrets Act for the unauthorized use of the National Security Council (NSC) logo.
A suspect identified as Kyaw Chan Nyein is still at large. “We’re seeking him as a fugitive,” said a police officer of Thaketa Township Police Station.
According to the police, the next trial is scheduled for Jan. 12.
U Phyo Ko Ko Tint San and seven accomplices were brought to trial on Jan. 3 for the first time in a Naypyitaw court since their detention.