A Dictator’s Balancing Act
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A Dictator’s Balancing Act

By Aung Zaw Friday, February 23, 2007

(Page 2 of 2)

As things stand at the moment, even if Than Shwe wants to leave office he may be forced to make a delicate and difficult decision to balance the power between powerful generals, as well as clearing it with his wife and ensuring the safety of their children. He must still be clever enough to realize that if he fails in this balancing trick the predictions of the pessimists will come true and there will be a dogfight.

Can a Young Tycoon Change the Generals?
The generals in Burma cannot survive alone—they need friends and allies. And that means Burma’s top tycoons.
The secretive and corrupt business environment in Burma lacks any form of transparency, enabling many businesspeople to find ways to bribe the top generals and win permission to do business, to export and import goods and gain concessions. Hence, businesspeople and generals are inseparable buddies.

The fate of Than Shwe and his family, for example, hangs o­n o­ne young businessman, Tay Za. Equally, Tay Za’s fortune depends heavily o­n Than Shwe.

The 43-year old businessman is president and managing director of Htoo Trading Company and a major player in Burma’s tourism, logging, palm oil, real estate, hotel, air line and housing development industries. His company, Air Bagan, recently bought two A-320 passenger aircraft, and business sources say Than Shwe’s wife, Kyaing Kyaing, and members of her family may have invested in the airline business. Although not confirmed, this is currently hot news in Rangoon’s business circles.

Tay Za (also spelled Te Za) is o­ne of Burma’s best-connected tycoons, often accompanying top leaders o­n overseas missions. His Myanmar Avia Export is Burma’s sole representative of Russia’s Export Military Industrial Group, known as MAPO, and of the Russian helicopter company Rostvertol, and last year he went with Deputy Snr-Gen Maung Aye to Russia.

Tay Za was instrumental in helping the junta purchase advanced MiG-29 fighter-bombers and helicopters from Russia, and he is thought to have arranged sales of small arms to the junta.

While Tay Za’s close allies are said to be Than Shwe and Gen Thura Shwe Mann, his relations with Maung Aye might not be so good. Last year Maung Aye, in his capacity as chairman of the Trade Policy Council, instructed the Minister of Finance and Revenue to increase taxes o­n businesses owned by Tay Za. The minister ordered state auditors to examine the company’s accounts, but Tay Za’s powerful friends intervened to block the investigation.
Tay Za has no shortage of friends. As well as enjoying a cozy relationship with Than Shwe, he is known to be romantically involved with o­ne of the general’s daughters, which may—or may not be—a reason for his marriage to Thida Zaw being o­n the rocks.
Burmese businessmen note that Tay Za likes to bring children of senior military leaders into his company as directors. For instance, Aung Thet Mann, Shwe Mann’s son, is o­n a Tay Za company board of directors, and Aung Thet Mann’s own company is now involved in building new military facilities in Naypyidaw.
Tay Za often flies to Singapore, where he is said to have arranged a deal with a major bank to help generals’ families to invest money there. Than Shwe’s wife Kyaing Kyaing and her family members are often seen in Singapore shopping—not o­nly for luxuries but also for property.

One unconfirmed report shared among Burmese in Singapore suggests that Tay Za has bought luxury cars, including a Lamborghini for Than Shwe’s grandson, who is studying there. Tay Za himself drives a Bentley and a Ferrari.

There’s even a suggestion that Tay Za and his well-heeled, well-travelled business colleagues are better placed to influence Than Shwe than any UN or US envoy. It’s argued that their encounters with the good life outside Burma, in a world where fast cars and fine wines are the norm, have opened their eyes to what is wrong with their own country.

Can it be that the experience of driving their luxury cars over Burma’s potholed roads makes them believe that regime change is necessary? Can they convince Than Shwe of that? Perhaps Than Shwe wants to keep behind the wheel of his Toyota Land Cruiser. In that case, Tay Za, take your Ferrari to Singapore.

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