The Myanmar Army shows off its equipment during its Armed Forces Day parade.

By The Irrawaddy March 15, 2022

Until his and his family’s shady dealings with the Myanmar military were revealed by The New York Times late last year, U Jonathan Kyaw Thaung was best known as the CEO of KT Group, which operates a port terminal and led the renovation of the Pegu Club in Yangon, among other business activities.

The Times article unmasked the Kyaw Thaungs as people who quietly equipped Myanmar’s military, which has long been known for its atrocities against the country’s ethnic groups. Now he has killed more than 1,500 people since last year’s coup for overthrowing military rule in the country.

As it turned out, the Kyaw Thaungs became bedfellows with the military by securing lucrative contracts to supply it with European aircraft, a French coastal surveillance system, and Italian guns for the navy, among other things, while avoiding Western sanctions.

Despite evidence provided by The Times and Justice For Myanmar, an advocacy group that tracks the activities of the Myanmar military and its associates, U Jonathan Kyaw Thaung, has denied any involvement in the arms trade.

“I have nothing to do with weapons,” he told The Irrawaddy, saying he had even refrained from engaging in fishing or poultry-related activities, as suggested by his father, reflecting a Buddhist belief that discourages animal husbandry.

“I come from a wealthy family. I don’t need to make a quick buck like some people,” he added.

But the 39-year-old did not deny his relationship with coup leader Min Aung Hlaing. He admitted to being introduced to the junta boss (who at the time was the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar military) nearly a decade ago by U Aung Ko Win, chairman of the Kanbawza Group of Companies ( KBZ) and one of the richest men. in the countryside. The encounter led Jonathan Kyaw Thaung to meet Min Aung Hlaing’s son U Aung Pyae Sone and daughter Daw Khin Thiri Thetmon, who were both trying to expand their family businesses at the time.

However, the Irish-Burmese man told The Irrawaddy that despite the introduction of U Aung Ko Win, he was never close to Min Aung Hlaing and his wife Daw Kyu Kyu Hla. He insisted he had not met them since the February coup last year.

U Jonathan Kyaw Thaung

Asked about his involvement with Min Aung Hlaing’s son in the purchase of JF-17 fighter jets and K-8 trainer jets from Pakistan, as reported by military sources, he denied.

The Irrawaddy has learned that U Jonathan Kyaw Thaung secured lucrative military-related business concessions with the help of KBZ’s U Aung Ko Win, whom he calls “uncle” out of respect.

They were so close that U Jonathan Kyaw Thaung organized trips abroad by chartering a private jet for U Aung Ko Win, one of Myanmar’s richest men. Sometimes he traveled with him on leisure and business trips, including gambling in Macau. He reminded friends that on one of the trips he asked the pilot to turn around while flying from east to west of the country, in order to dine at their favorite Korean restaurant. U Jonathan Kyaw Thaung once said proudly, according to a friend, that U Aung Ko Win was so dependent on him that he had to take care of him “like a baby”, including on issues like visas and immigration.

U Aung Ko Win made his fortune under Myanmar’s former regime, which controlled Myanmar from 1988 to early 2011, by cultivating a friendship with the then junta’s second man, Chief General Maung Aye. The personal ties helped the public school teacher in the small town in Shan State to enter the banking, aviation, mining and other sectors as the general at the time was in the head of the regime’s trade council, which oversaw exports, imports and joint ventures with foreign countries. U Aung Ko Win came to public prominence with his Kanbawza bank, known locally as KBZ.

Despite his previous ties to the former regime, the banker backed the National League for Democracy government of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, which came to power after the 2015 general election. When Myanmar was hit hard by COVID -19 in 2020, U Aung Ko Win was one of a handful of buddies who made serious contributions to the fight against the disease. He is not on the US sanctions list.

Despite all the blessings and connections with Myanmar’s military rulers, U Jonathan Kyaw Thaung paid the price for his ties to the generals.

Its TNT port terminal in Yangon is now struggling to be operational. Shortly before the coup, Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, announced that it would not use the terminal it had leased from the military. Prior to this, a UK port operator stopped running the port after the operator was put on a ‘dirty list’ of international companies doing business with the military. He admitted that he struggled to pay rental fees to the military.

After a stay in Thailand until last year, U Jonathan Kyaw Thaung would now be in Dubai, where his father now resides.


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