Htoo Group’s business with the Myanmar military

September 27, 2021

Htoo Group of Companies, a major crony conglomerate owned by Tay Za and his family, is a significant business associate of the Myanmar military. On September 2, the UK government imposed sanctions on Htoo Group and Tay Za “for providing financial support and arms to the military”, noting that the group also provided funds in support of the military’s genocide against the Rohingya in 2017.

In support of targeted sanctions against Htoo Group, its directors and shareholders, Justice For Myanmar has compiled a list of all known current companies that are part of Htoo Group or are associated with Tay Za and his family, as well as their directors and shareholders. Justice For Myanmar urges targeted sanctions against the entire Htoo network in order to prevent financial and arms support for the illegal Myanmar junta.

In addition, Justice For Myanmar is publishing a leaked 2018 Myanmar Air Force meeting note sheet on the conversion of planes for the Myanmar military by Yangon Aerospace Engineering Company (YAECO), a business owned by Tay Za. This provides further evidence of Tay Za’s involvement in military procurement.

Our Evidence

Htoo Group subsidiaries and related companies, directors and shareholders: Download Excel File (35 kb)

Yangon Aerospace Engineering Company - Myanmar Air Force meeting note sheet: Download PDF (5.1 mb)

Htoo Trading proposal to Myanmar Investment Commission for Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort Ngapali: Download PDF (16.9 mb)

Press Release

Tay Za, who was described in a leaked 2007 US embassy cable as “the Burmese regime’s number one crony”, built immense wealth as a close associate of former dictator Senior General Than Shwe and General Thura Shwe Mann, the former chief of general staff and later parliamentary speaker under the military’s proxy government.

Tay Za’s connections provided access to lucrative state contracts and licenses, allowing him to enrich himself from the systemic corruption of military rule. Under the previous junta, he also sold arms to the Myanmar military, supporting their grave human rights violations in ethnic areas.

Tay Za is from a military family. The youngest son of former Lt Col Myint Swe, he was part of the 1982 intake of the elite Defence Services Academy, although he did not graduate.  

Tay Za heads Htoo Group of Companies as chair, with his brother Thi Ha as vice chair and his son Pyae Phyo Tay Za as managing director. His other two children, Htoo Htet Tay Za and Htoo Htwe Tay Za (also known as Rachel Tayza), are directors and shareholders of numerous Htoo subsidiaries and associated companies, while his wife Thida Zaw (the couple are separated) is involved in Htoo’s business in Singapore.

Tay Za and his family have a stake in more than 60 businesses in Myanmar and Singapore in industries throughout the economy, including mining, forestry, logging, timber, petroleum, construction, manufacturing, food and beverage, property development, agriculture, transportation, banking and finance, insurance, aviation and hotels and tourism.

Htoo Group is a significant business associate of the Myanmar military, providing a source of revenue and support that enables the military’s international crimes, which include genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The below businesses have direct links to the Myanmar military. Given the secrecy of the Myanmar military’s business dealings and Htoo’s lack of transparency, this is likely incomplete.

Air Myanmar Aviation Services Company Limited

Air Myanmar Aviation Services is a Htoo subsidiary that operates a helicopter fleet. During the Myanmar military’s campaign of genocide against the Rohingya in 2017, Air Myanmar Aviation transported emergency assistance to Arakan State in response to what the company termed “Extreme Bengali Terrorist”. Images posted by Htoo show troops unloading supplies from an AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter.  

In addition to logistical support, Htoo made financial donations to the Myanmar military in support of its “clearance operations” against the Rohingya, which was identified by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar. In regards to Htoo and other donors, the Fact-Finding Mission concluded that “those attending and making donations at the Tatmadaw’s funding ceremonies were aware of the likelihood that their donations would substantially contribute to ensuring the Rohingya population cannot return to their villages and communities” and recommended an investigation into whether donors are criminally liable under international law.

Asia Green Development (AGD) Bank Public Company Limited

AGD Bank is a public commercial bank controlled by Htoo Group. Tay Za is the biggest shareholder. The managing director of the bank is Tay Za’s second son, Htoo Htet Tay Za.

In July 2020, AGD announced a project finance agreement with telecommunications tower company Pinnacle Asia for an undisclosed amount to increase tower holdings to 400 by 2021, to be used by military controlled mobile network Mytel. Pinnacle Asia, a company owned by Khin Thiri Thet Mon, daughter of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, is a partner of Star High, a subsidiary of military conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation.  

AGD’s regional network of correspondent banks provide Htoo and its military business associates with access to the international financial system, thereby risking complicity in Htoo and the Myanmar junta’s criminal conduct. Justice For Myanmar calls on these banks to cut ties with AGD.

AGD’s international partners include VISA, PACT Global Micro-finance Fund (PGMF), SGX-listed firm Japfa and KEB HANA Microfinance.

Ayeyarwaddy Resorts and Lodges Company Limited

Htoo’s hotel subsidiary currently has two BOT agreements with the Myanmar military for the development of an office and residential apartments. The commercial project is on 22 acres of land in Hlaing Township of Yangon leased from the office of the quartermaster general, providing the military with approximately USD$1.65 million annually under a 50-year contract, according to Myanmar Investment Commission data leaked by Distributed Denial of Secrets.

This provides a source of revenue that supports the military’s criminal conduct, as well as a lucrative future asset.

Htoo Construction Development Group Company Limited

Htoo Construction Development Group Company was formed in 1996 and received lucrative and prestigious contracts during the construction of Naypyidaw under the former military junta, including the president’s residence, government buildings and offices, state guesthouses and residences for ministers and other high-ranking officials. The company is managed by Htet Htoo Tay Za.

Since 2016, the company operates a joint venture with military conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) for the Royal Sportainment Complex, a leisure project that features a bowling alley and an indoor ice-skating rink in Yangon.

The company won lucrative state contracts under the former military junta, such as for the construction of government buildings in Naypyidaw. More recently, the company has received contracts for the construction of hydropower dams in Shan and Kachin states.

Htoo International Industry Group Company Limited and Electrum Mining Company Limited

Htoo International Industry has held licences for large scale coal mining in the Kalywa Township of Sagaing Region, where there is ongoing armed conflict. They have also held iron, gypsum and jade licences, according to data from the Myanmar Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). As of 2019, the company's iron mine in Waingmaw, Kachin State was active, also located in a region of ongoing armed conflict. The Myanmar EITI has reported that Htoo International's iron mine involves Electrum Mining Company.

As there is a lack of transparency over licensing, Justice For Myanmar cannot confirm which of these mines are currently active but it is highly likely that Htoo are continuing to mine under the illegal military junta, generating revenue for the junta through revenue sharing agreements.

Htoo Trading Company Limited

One of the group’s key businesses, Htoo Trading was initially established in 1990 and prospered under the former military junta by logging Myanmar’s forests and exporting the timber. From 1999 to 2009, the company was among the top 5 exporters of timber annually. Htoo Trading has been involved in jade mining with the former military junta and traded in an array of commodities, including holding a lucrative permit for the import of cement.

Htoo Trading is the developer of Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort Ngapali on land leased from the Myanmar military through a build-operate-transfer (BOT) agreement, providing a source of revenue that supports the military’s criminal conduct, as well as a lucrative future asset (see Myanmar Investment Commission proposal, leaked by Distributed Denial of Secrets).

Myanmar Avia Export Company Limited

Myanmar Avia Export, owned by Tay Za, was an arms broker that procured equipment for the Myanmar military. According to a leaked US Embassy cable published by Wikileaks, Avia Export "earned hefty commissions from sales to the military of arms, ammunition, supplies, MI-17 helicopters, and MiG-29s". In 2016-17, the company imported Mil Mi-17 parts from Mortor Sich, a major Ukrainian manufacturer of aircraft and missile engines. The procurement of arms and related materiel aids and abets the Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes.

Myanmar Avia Export’s company registration has lapsed. However, the similarly named Myanmar Avia Services, owned by Tay Za and Pye Phyo Tay Za, continues to be current and may be a successor business.

Myanmar Petroleum Trade Association (MPTA)

MPTA is a national association of petroleum businesses, chaired by Tay Za and involving military conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL). MEHL officials have taken management positions along with Tay Za, notably Lieutenant Colonel Aye Lwin (retired).

In August 2021, following the military’s attempted coup, MPTA sent a letter to member companies in Mandalay Region encouraging them to donate petrol to the junta. The order was a response to a request from the junta for fuel as the military has intensified its nationwide terror campaign, launching military offensives throughout Myanmar.

Myanmar Treasure Hotel & Resort Group Company Limited and Myanmar Hospitality Management Company Pte. Ltd. (Htoo Hospitality)

Myanmar Treasure Hotel & Resort Group (Htoo Hospitality) operates hotels including Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort Ngapali on land leased from the Myanmar military through a build-operate-transfer (BOT) agreement, providing a source of revenue that supports the military’s criminal conduct, as well as being a lucrative future asset.

Myanmar Hospitality Management Company is a joint venture between Myanmar Treasure Hotel & Resort Group Company and Singapore Stock Exchange listed Banyan Tree Holdings Limited for the joint management of 17 hotels in Myanmar including Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort Ngapali.

Nova Lifestyle Holdings Company Limited

Nova Lifestyle Holdings is owned by Htoo Htwe Tay Za and its registration is currently suspended. 2016-17 EITI data lists the company as a timber exporter. It may be linked to a Hong Kong registered company with the same name (which was formerly registered as Apex Corporate with shares held by Fernside Limited, an offshore shell company in Samoa).

Yangon Aircraft Engineering Company Limited (YAECO)

According to a leaked Air Force meeting note sheet published by Justice For Myanmar, the Htoo aviation service company YAECO, owned by Tay Za and Pye Phyo Tay Za, provides services to the Air Force, including the conversion of planes. The note sheet specifies project components under the supervision of Brigadier General Thet Swe including the conversion of an unknown number of ATR-72 aircraft for cargo and troop transport as a cost of USD$ 550,000 each. The note sheets, dated April 2018, specifies that YAECO would also provide the necessary training to Myanmar military engineers.  

In YAECO’s project notes, the company advises that the military “change the configuration while under civilian registration”, which appears to signal an intention to evade international sanctions.

In December 2018, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing commissioned two ATR 72 aircraft, which were likely converted by YAECO.  

A second component is for the VIP conversion of an A-319 plane, although this may have been awarded to Aero Sofi, a company associated with the family of air force chief General Maung Maung Kyaw.

Yangon Engineering Group Company Limited

Htoo owned Yangon Engineering Group formed a now defunct joint venture with military conglomerate Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL) for the Dawei Crude Oil Refinery project in Tanintharyi Region under the military’s proxy government.  The project was cancelled in 2017 after mass community opposition due to the environmental impact. Yangon Engineering is still active and may continue to pursue business with the military.