Yangon attorney general among 6 arrested for taking bribes to drop comedian’s murder case

Yangon Region Attorney General Han Htoo attends a regional parliament meeting on Sept. 13, 2018, shortly before his arrest. Photo: Facebook / Yangon Region Government

Yangon Region’s attorney general and five other officials were arrested on Thursday for allegedly accepting a bribe in exchange for dropping the case against three young men suspected of murdering viral video star Aung Yell Htwe.

Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Commission has filed charges against Yangon Region Attorney General Han Htoo; judge Aung Kyi from the Yangon Eastern District Court; prosecutors Thein Zaw, Ko Ko Lay, and Daw Thit Thit Khin; and Police Lieutenant Chit Ko Ko. The six are accused of taking bribed amounting to K72 million (US$46,300) from Khin Maung Lay, the father of suspect Than Htut Aung (aka Thar Gyi).

Thar Gyi and his two friends Pyae Phyo Aung (aka Aung Lay) and Kyaw Zaw Han (aka Kyaw Zaw) were charged with murder after comedian Aung Yell Htwe was fatally beaten at a New Year’s party and died in a Yangon hospital on Jan. 2. Thar Gyi surrendered to police on Jan. 4 in the presence of his parents and confessed that he and his two friends had committed the deadly beating.

A photo of Aung Yell Htwe from his Facebook page.
A photo of Aung Yell Htwe from his Facebook page.

Despite their confession, the three men were granted an unconditional release on July 25, reportedly with the support of the attorney general and the plaintiff in the case, the comedian’s brother Thant Zin Oo. The attorney general claimed the case lacked evidence to proceed.

The news of their release prompted online rumors that the three suspects had fled the country, and the rumors were bolstered by a viral Facebook post by an account with the name “Than Htut Aung” (Thar Gyi’s real name) depicting a man wearing a balaclava making a sneering expression.

An image posted by a Facebook page under the name Than Htut Aung, the same name as one of Aung Yell Htwe’s suspected killers, shortly after all three suspects were released on July 25, 2018. Photo: Facebook / Than Htut Aung
An image posted by a Facebook page under the name Than Htut Aung, the same name as one of Aung Yell Htwe’s suspected killers, shortly after all three suspects were released on July 25, 2018. Photo: Facebook / Than Htut Aung

On July 30, government spokesman Zaw Htay announced on Facebook that the Union-level attorney general had annulled the decision of his regional counterpart and ordered the case reopened at a higher court. He also said that the government will work with Interpol to repatriate the suspects if they had indeed fled the country. (The three are not included in Interpol’s database of wanted persons.)

Han Htoo allegedly received the second largest portion of the bribe, amounting to K15 million (US$9,600), while judge Aung Kyi received the largest sum – K33 million (US$21,200). The bribe also included bottles of whiskey and other gifts.

An Anti-Corruption Commission spokesperson told The Irrawaddy that Yangon Region Attorney General Han Htoo his alleged co-conspirators are being held at Yangon’s Thuwunna Police Station. All six face charges under Article 56 of the Anti-Corruption Law, which outlaws taking bribes and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Han Htoo faces an additional charge under Article 55, which specifically forbids political office holders from taking bribes. It carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Khin Maung Lay, father of suspect Thar Gyi and alleged bribe-giver, has agreed to testify against the six officials in exchange for immunity.

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