The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]

The Scorpions Are Back
By WAI MOE Thursday, August 18, 2011

More than a dozen members of the infamous Scorpion Gang—a group of young gangsters from Burma’s elite families who roamed the streets and nightclubs of Rangoon in the 1990s and early 2000s—were released from prison on Monday, according to family members.

A relative of a Scorpion Gang member told The Irrawaddy that 15 gang members, including their leader Yan Naing, were set free on Monday and reunited with their families.

 “Good news, my brothermen will be out and about . 11 year of sentence, never gets worse. I hope they all can do well outside …,” a friend of the Scorpion Gang, who now lives in the UK, posted on Facebook just prior to the release.

The Scorpion Gang was formed in the 1990s by a group of youngsters from elite Rangoon families who would meet at high society nightclubs and learning institutes. By 1995, they had become the talk of the town, and for the next few years they went on a virtual rampage throughout the city, acting with the knowledge that their well-connected status made them virtually untouchable by Rangoon police.

The highest level connection that Scorpion Gang members enjoyed came through their friendship with Kyaw Ne Win, the grandson of former dictator Ne Win. Some alleged that Kyaw Ne Win was a leading member of the gang, although friends of the Scorpion Gang deny this was the case.

During the latter half of the 1990s, people in Rangoon quipped that the Scorpion Gang was virtually the second most powerful group in Rangoon—after the junta’s Military Intelligence unit. It got to the point that when Scorpions on motorbikes drove up to traffic junctions, the police turned the lights from red to green as if they were an official convoy.

Although in the early days the gang was mostly involved in rowdy behavior and petty crimes, it later expanded into car smuggling, extortion and drugs—becoming the Burmese equivalent of the Japanese Yakuza.

The gang gained even greater notoriety in 1998, when a young man and friend of the gang named Thar Lainmar reportedly died of a drug overdose and some of the Scorpions simply dropped his body in front of his home.

In 2001, however, the Scorpion Gang pushed their sense of impunity too far. At the time, there were rumors that one of the gang members was intimately involved with Nandar Aye, the daughter of Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, who was then the deputy commander-in-chief of Defense Services.

One day, gang members raced their motorbikes up next to Maung Aye’s convoy and pointed their fingers at the general’s vehicle, triggering a crackdown on the Scorpion Gang.

Some gang members went into hiding and fled the country, but 22 members, including the leaders, were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. The citizens of Rangoon were also affected by the gang’s hubris—following the incident involving Maung Aye’s convoy, a ban on non-official motorbikes was instituted in the city, and the prohibition remains in effect today.

In addition, a few months after the crackdown on the Scorpion Gang, its most important benefactors were imprisoned as well. Kyaw Ne Win and his two brothers, Aye Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win, along with Ne Win’s son-in-law, Aye Zaw Win, were arrested and given long prison sentences, while Ne Win and his daughter, Sandar Win, were placed under house arrest.

Being incarcerated didn’t keep the Scorpion Gang out of the headlines for long. In Sept. 2005, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma reported that the Scorpion inmates attacked political prisoners in Rangoon’s Insein Prison. 

Now, after spending a decade behind bars, 15 Scorpions are back in Rangoon and ready to celebrate with their friends and families (two of the imprisoned gang members died in jail, and five remain in prison due to drug convictions).
 “I picked up my brother at Insein Prison on Monday afternoon,” said the brother of a released Scorpion. “We all are very happy—especially the elders.”

Meanwhile, the family members of Burma’s 2,000 plus political prisoners wait for their loved ones to be released by President Thein Sein’s government.

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