Posted on: February 10, 2024, 02:03h.
Last updated on: February 10, 2024, 02:04h.
Myanmar’s military junta has issued an arrest warrant for the owner of a five-star hotel casino on the paradise island of Thahtay Kyun. U Kyaw Lwin is wanted in Thailand for money laundering, operating illegal gambling sites, tax fraud, and fuel smuggling.
U Kyaw Lwin, owns the exclusive rights to gambling on Thahtay Kyun, an island off the country’s southern tip, via his Grand Andaman casino-hotel. The Grand Andaman, whose land comprises the entire 1,800-acre island, has closed following news of the warrant, The Irrawaddy reports.
Last week, Thai authorities accused U Kyaw Lwin of involvement with the “Kofuk” network, which they believe oversees a large-scale online gambling and money laundering operation that targets Thai nationals.
The network is also accused of tax fraud for creating false records for fuel exports and applying for tax refunds, costing the Thai state US$277 million in unrealized taxes, The Irrawaddy reports. It is also suspected of smuggling fuel, according to Thai authorities.
Raids in Thailand
U Kyaw Lwin holds a near monopoly over the fuel market in Kawthaung Township, an area with a population of 140,020 that includes the island. Situated close to the Thai coastal town of Ranong, Thahtay Kyun is part of Myanmar, but Thai and other nationals can visit without a Myanmar visa or strict border checks, according to the hotel’s website.
Last week, Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) announced it had raided 27 addresses linked to the Kofuk network in Thailand, seizing supercars, jewelry, and luxury items. These locations included U Kyaw Lwin’s home in Ranong.
DSI deputy director-general Yutthana Praedam said in a press conference that seven of 18 suspects have been arrested.
“The hotel owner, the main culprit, has not yet been arrested. But one of his assistants and his wife were arrested,” he said, without naming U Kyaw Lwin.
Yutthana described the fugitive as a Myanmar national who also holds Thai citizenship who was believed to be out hiding in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s junta has been tolerant of criminal organizations within its borders that run online gambling operations, which are often coupled with online scam factories. That’s because it has proved to be politically expedient in a multi-ethnic state that has long been difficult to govern.
But in recent months, it has faced increasing pressure from neighboring states – not least regional superpower China — to rein in these elements.
The junta faces civil war after an uprising by ethnic groups in Shan state in eastern Myanmar, which borders China. In November, rebels stormed the city of Laukkaing and kicked out the junta-allied triad warlords that ran gambling and human trafficking in the city.
Many believe the uprising, so close to the Chinese border, could not have happened without Beijing’s approval.