Shwe Byain Phyu’s military links exposed
February 13, 2022
Military linked conglomerate Shwe Byain Phyu is reportedly acquiring an 80% stake in mobile operator Telenor Myanmar, giving the company control of the historical call data of the network’s 18 million subscribers.
Telenor Group appears to be involved in a cover-up with the Myanmar military junta to transfer ownership to Shwe Byain Phyu via a transaction with M1 Group.
Shwe Byain Phyu has a long history of working with the Myanmar military and its conglomerates, linking Telenor Myanmar’s buyer with sanctioned entities and individuals.
If the sale of Telenor Myanmar proceeds, the Myanmar military junta, a terrorist organisation, will gain access to masses of personal data, telecommunications interception capabilities and likely a lucrative source of revenue.
Justice For Myanmar calls on Telenor Group, and the Norwegian government as its majority owner, to immediately halt the sale or risk aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.
Shwe Byain Phyu is a group of companies founded by Thein Win Zaw, which he owns with his wife and two children.
The first company, Manaw Thitar, was established in 1996, under the former military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council.
Shwe Byain Phyu group has business links to the military conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL). MEHL is sanctioned in the EU, UK and USA.
In an undated interview, Thein Win Zaw disclosed Shwe Byain Phyu’s partnership with MEHL to import petroleum. “The agreement is that the profit shall be shared between both parties,” he said. The group distributes petroleum and has a network of retail petrol stations.
MEHL directly finances the Myanmar military and top generals, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. MEHL shareholders consist of military units that are directly responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Thein Win Zaw is a central executive committee member and a founding member of the Myanmar Petroleum Trade Association (MPTA), which, according to their website, “oversees the private petroleum distribution market in Myanmar”.
The crony Tay Za is MPTA's chairperson, who is sanctioned in the US and UK. The US Treasury describes Tay Za as “the owner of multiple companies known to provide equipment and services, including arms, to the Burmese military and was a member of a May 2021 high-ranking Burmese military delegation to Russia.”
In August 2021, following the military’s illegal attempted coup, MPTA sent a letter to member companies in Mandalay Region calling on them to donate petrol to the junta. The order was a response to a request from the junta for fuel as the military intensified its nationwide terror campaign. This supported military attacks that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
MEHL is an MPTA member and an MEHL director, Lt. Col. Aye Lwin, has served on the MPTA board with Thein Win Zaw, according to a document filed with Myanmar's company registry.
Thein Win Zaw is also a director of the company, Myanma Energy Sector Development with Pyae Phyo Tay Za, a son of Tay Za. The US Treasury has designated Pyae Phyo Tay Za for sanctions, describing him as “instrumental to Tay Za’s business dealings with the Burmese military.”
Shwe Byain Phyu has a business relationship with military conglomerate Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) through their investment in military-controlled mobile operator, Mytel, which trades under the name Telecom International Myanmar Company Limited. MEC is sanctioned in the EU, UK and USA.
Mahar Yoma is in turn, the second biggest of eleven investors in Myanmar National Telecom Holdings (MNTH), a project company established to invest in Mytel.
Mahar Yoma director, Mya Han, is the chairperson of MNTH and has a seat on the Telecom International Myanmar board, according to Myanmar's company registry.
MNTH initially owned 23% of Mytel, however a portion of their shares have been transferred to MEC, reducing their stake.
Mytel’s remaining shareholders are MEC subsidiary Star High Company Limited and Viettel Global Investment, a company owned by Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defence.
A day after Reuters first reported Thein Win Zaw’s links to Mytel, he stepped down from the board of Mahar Yoma Public Company Limited. He continues to be a director of Mahar Yoma subsidiary, Mahar Yoma Kyauk Phyu Public Company Limited. This may be an attempt to avoid scrutiny over his military links.
Mytel is a lucrative business for Myanmar's generals, projected to generate over US$700 million for the military in the coming years.
Shwe Byain Phyu has jade mining interests and has won lucrative concessions in Hpakant, Kachin State. The company first formed joint ventures with the military controlled Myanma Gems Enterprise (MGE) under the previous junta.
It is highly likely that Shwe Byain Phyu is continuing its mining operations following the illegal coup attempt, although current licence details are not publicly available.
Shwe Byain Phyu group subsidiary Shwe Byain Phyu Gems Company Limited had seven jade licences as of 2017-18, the most recent data available.
Shwe Byain Phyu group subsidiary Win Paing Kyaw Gems Company Limited held three jade licences as of 2017-18. Win Paing Kyaw is the name of Thein Win Zaw's son.
Shwe Byain Phyu group subsidiary Theint Win Htet Gems Company held two licences. Theint Win Htet is the name of Thein Win Zaw’s daughter.
These licences operate under a joint venture with MGE, which receives 25% of revenues, EITI data shows. Following the illegal coup attempt, MGE was sanctioned by the EU, UK and USA.
Thein Win Zaw's wife, Tin Latt Min, is a co-founder, current director and shareholder of Mineral Development Bank Public Company Limited, which was set up to invest in and finance gem companies and to trade in jade and gems.
Other shareholders of Mineral Development Bank include Htoo Jewellery Company Limited, part of the Htoo Group. Htoo Group is a significant business partner of the Myanmar military that contributed funds to support the 2017 Rohingya genocide. Htoo Group is sanctioned by the UK.
The Mineral Development Bank’s current business activities include international banking services for the gem sector, an industry controlled by MGE. The bank requires further investigation for potential breaches of US and EU sanctions.
Shwe Byain Phyu has operated in the logging industry, in business with Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE), according to leaked documents seen by Justice For Myanmar. MTE is a state-owned enterprise currently under military control. MTE has been sanctioned in the EU, UK and US.
Tin Latt Min is also a shareholder of Forest Products Joint Venture Corporation Limited, a company that is now controlled by the military junta. The company was sanctioned by the EU following the military’s illegal coup attempt.
Stop the sale!
Shwe Byain Phyu has continuing close business links with the Myanmar military, as well as with EU, UK and US sanctioned entities and individuals.
Shwe Byain Phyu’s links to the junta and its businesses should be alarming for Telenor board members, senior management and the Norwegian government. The sale of Telenor Myanmar could also violate EU sanctions on Myanmar.
If the sale goes through and the terrorist junta gains control of Telenor Myanmar, these individuals could be complicit in crimes against humanity.
Telenor and the Norwegian government know the risks. Inaction is unconscionable. The sale of Telenor Myanmar must be immediately stopped.
Explore the evidence
Forest Products Joint Venture Corporation Limited corporate filings: Download PDF (7.6 mb)
Mahar Yoma Public Company member list (undated): Download PDF (33 kb)
Mineral Development Bank (formerly Mineral Development Public Company) articles of association: Download PDF (14.9 mb)
Mineral Development Bank (formerly Mineral Development Public Company) list of members (undated): Download PDF (2.91 mb)
Myanmar National Telecom Holdings list of members (undated): Download PDF (696 kb)
Myanmar Petroleum Trade Association articles of association: Download PDF (4.14 mb)
Myanmar Petroleum Trade Association board document (undated): Download PDF (869 kb)
Myanmar Petroleum Trade Association letter extract calling for fuel donations to military: Download PDF (62 kb)