The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]
Burmese Tycoons Part I
JUNE, 2000 - VOLUME 8 NO.6

Burma once enjoyed economic prosperity and Burmese business people were famous for enjoying prestigious and luxurious lives compared to others in the region especially its neighbors. There were even some rich men who could afford to buy airplanes and ships for their personal pleasure. However, since Burma fell under the State-controlled economy fashioned by Gen Ne Win’s Burmese Way to Socialism, the country became one of the poorest nations in the world and an economic "wasteland" for the business community. The post-Socialist period started in 1988, when the military reintroduced a market economy to the country with the hope that economic success will bring the political legitimacy that the blood-tainted junta desperately needed. However, interestingly, the return of business tycoons has created domestic and international controversies and inquires due to their shady background and connections. The Irrawaddy presents these four powerful tycoons of Burma in this issue as the first part of a series of in depth profiles of movers and shakers in business and other aspects of Burmese society.

U Eike Htun

Asia Wealth Bank

Olympic Construction Company

Despite being a well-known businessman in Burma, little is known of U Eike Htun’s shady background and business connections. U Eike Htun is ethnic Kokang and is believed to be involved in the drug trade. U Eike Tun is Managing Director of one of the most successful construction businesses in Burma—the Olympic Construction Company, which was established in 1990. In collaboration with the government Housing Development Agency and Yangon Municipality, Olympic Construction Co. has engaged in recent housing projects such as Wisaya Plaza, Myaing Haywin Housing, Kanthaya Plaza and Olympic Tower. The Company is also engaged in agricultural projects in the Delta and Magwe Divisions and the Eight Mile Junction Supermarket which has been in business since 1999.

U Eike Tun is also a vice president of a sister company of the Olympic Construction Company—the Asia Wealth Bank. The Asia Wealth Bank was established in 1994 and is one of Burma’s best known private commercial banks with many branches in Burma. The bank’s chair is U Win Maung who speaks little Burmese and is also thought to be Kokang-Chinese. U Eike Htun however is articulate in Burmese and frequently appears at public ceremonies and meetings. He has good connections with top ruling leaders notably, Lt Gen Khin Nyunt.

Many businessmen conclude the bank’s success is due to the bold risks it has taken compared to competitors. Asia Wealth Bank has received substantial support from Chinese business interests. The bank has introduced and distributed bankcards, gift cheques, and travelers cheques. The Asia Wealth Bank introduced "New Generation" credit cards to its clients at the end of 1999. It is the only private bank that provides safe and security boxes to clients.

U Eike Htun’s name was recently mentioned in Bangkok-based newspapers and allegations that he was closely involved in the Burmese drug trade were repeated when he was invited to attend the Asian Development Bank conference held in Chiang Mai, Thailand in May 2000.

U Htay Myint

Yuzana Co Ltd

Yuzana Super Market,

Hotel and Plaza

U Htay Myint is one of the wealthiest businessmen from southern Burma. He is chairman of Yuzana Co Ltd which was established in 1994. U Ktay Myint is very close to Lt Gen Khin Nyunt and it is believed that Khin Nyunt owns shares in Yuzana Co Ltd.

Yuzana Company is well-known for its involvement in housing projects in Rangoon. It also engages in hotel, department store, supermarket, agriculture and fishery businesses. Yuzana has recently received a government loan to assist its construction business and shrimp firms as they are facing serious financial difficulties.

U Htay Myint is also president of the following associations/businesses: the Construction Owners’ Association, the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association, the Myanmar Projects’ Association, Industrial Holdings Ltd and Yuzana business companies and concessions.

His wealth and business skills were acknowledged in 1994 when his Yuzana Company opened one of Burma’s biggest shopping centers, the Yuzana Super Market in Rangoon. Subsequently, Yuzana has aggressively invested in real estates projects. It has also opened more supermarkets, hotels and resorts. The three-star Yuzana Hotel, with 198 rooms, was opened in Rangoon in 1997.

With the Shwe Thazin company as its business partner, Yuzana Co Ltd has managed a factory producing seasoning in Deik Oo Township since 1998, although the factory is owned by Industry Ministry No 1.

U Aung Ko Win (Saya Kyaung)

Kanbawza Bank

Until 1988, U Aung Ko Win was a little-known school teacher. Thus, he is also known as "Saya Kyaung" meaning "School Teacher." But he has strong connections with the ruling junta through his close relationship with Gen Maung Aye, vice chairman of the SPDC. He is seen as the General’s "adopted son". At the initial stages of Burma’s "market economy" in the late eighties he was in charge of purchasing goods at Shan Yoma Shopping Center in Tachilek, owned by the Eastern Command where Gen Maung Aye served as commander. With the blessings of the influential general, U Aung Ko Win began his own business in the early 1990s.

His ties with the top brass were strengthened by his marriage to Daw Nan Than Htwe, the niece of Secretary 3 of the ruling junta, Lt Gen Win Myint.

Aung Ko Win is the only person to have been permitted an import license for cement. He is also engaged in the agriculture business and is currently president of the Myanmar Billion Group, Nilayoma Co Ltd, East Yoma Co Ltd and Kanbawza Hospital in Taunggyi, Shan State. He is also the agent for London Cigarettes for Shan and Kayah States.

He also became president of the Kanbawza Bank, which was established in Taunggyi, in January 2000. Aung Ko Win took over the management of the bank with substantial financial backing from his business associates, including coconut cooking oil industrialists and large-scale gem businessmen. At that time, the bank had only four branch offices in the country, but has since become very successful within a short period of time and is predicted to grow further. So far, Aung Ko Win is reported to have donated 50% of the bank’s net profit to Burma’s national football team. He is reported to have donated US$2.85 million to public projects such as the renovation of the Shwedagon Pagoda.

U Tun Myint Naing (Steven Law)

Asia World Co Ltd

Managing Director of Burma’s biggest conglomerate, Asia World Co Ltd, Steven Law is also son of Lo Hsing Han, the infamous drug lord and chairman of Asia World. Asia World Co Ltd was founded on June 5, 1992 with strong financial backing, and engages in a broad range of business activities.

Steven Law married Singaporean Cecilia Ng, a business partner, in 1995. There are three "overseas branch companies" of Asia World in Singapore run by Steven Law and his wife. According to a high-level US government official, Cecilia Ng operates an underground banking system and through this is "a contact for people in Burma to get their drug money into Singapore, because she has a connection to the government."

Steven Law also has strong business connections with Malaysian-born tycoon Robert Kuok. Through its partnership with Asia World, Kuok Singapore Ltd was Burma’s single largest real estate investor as of late 1996, having invested over US$650 million in various projects. Beginning with the importing into Burma of Kuok’s cooking oil, Asia World’s business expanded to include the sub-contracting of Kuok Group projects, including the construction of the Traders and Shangrila hotels in Rangoon.

Asia World’s operations now include a deepwater port in Rangoon, the Leo Express bus line to northern Burma, and a US$33 million toll highway from the heart of Burma’s opium cultivating region to the Chinese border. It is alleged that these operations are to facilitate the movement of drugs and to launder drug profits. There is further speculation about the origins of the initial investment that has seen Asia World grow from humble beginnings to one of Burma’s largest and fastest growing private sector companies in just 6 years.

Steven Law was refused a visa to the USA on suspicion of involvement in narcotics trafficking in 1996 and Washington is leading a narcotics investigation into Asia World’s operations. More than half of Singapore’s investment in Burma goes through partnerships with Asia World, totaling more than US$1.3 billion. Asia World’s intimate relationship with Singaporean business interests thus provides a direct route for the narcotics trade to be woven into seemingly legitimate investments between Singapore and Burma, alleged US officials.

Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group |