Gun-loving businessman Phyo Ko Ko Tint San made his first court appearance on Wednesday along with seven accomplices, kicking off a trial for more than a dozen criminal charges, three of which were filed against him that day.
Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, 41, is the chairman of the ACE Group, which built Myanmar’s parliament compound, and the son of former sports minister Tint Hsan, who served under former president Thein Sein.
On October 15, the businessman was arrested along with two employees after two guns, 72 bullets, 12 yaba pills, and 1.5 grams of crystal meth were found in his backpack at the Naypyidaw airport.
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.
At today’s hearing, Phyo Ko Ko Tint San was given two additional charges under the Telecommunications Law for owning walkie-talkies and one under the Export/Import Law for having a drone.
The businessman also faces several charges 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.
Last month, two Reuters reporters were arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act for allegedly attempting “to send important security documents regarding security forces in Rakhine State to foreign agencies abroad,” according to the Ministry of Information. Their violation carried a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
The case has prompted international criticism of Myanmar’s treatment of journalists and its use of outdated, colonial-era laws to suppress criticism.
Hearings in the Phyo Ko Ko Tint San case will be held in Naypyidaw every Wednesday. The defendant has claimed that he was amassing the equipment to start a security company. However, Myanmar law does not allow private companies to provide armed security services.