Star Sapphire companies funnelling arms and money to military
April 26, 2022
The Star Sapphire Group of Companies play a key role in enabling the illegal Myanmar military junta's atrocity crimes against the people of Myanmar, and have acquired wealth through corruption and illicit business dealings.
This feature outlines the significant companies and individuals involved in brokering arms and providing funds to the Myanmar military.
The group of companies is controlled by individuals linked to the Myanmar military, and has been involved in a wide range of business sectors, including mining, manufacturing, defence, casinos, energy, agriculture and trade.
Notable current and former directors and shareholders in Star Sapphire Group and associated companies are:
- Dr Tun Min Latt – son of Khin Maung Latt, a former lieutenant colonel of the Myanmar Air Force, who also served as director-general of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. Both father and son were formerly sanctioned by the European Union.
- Dr Win Min Soe – wife of Dr Tun Min Latt.
- Khin Thiri Thet Mon – daughter of junta head and war criminal Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing.
- Dr Htet Aung – son of a brigadier general, Zin Yaw, who was formerly Chief of Staff (Air) and a former director of military conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL). Both father and son were formerly sanctioned by the European Union.
- Upakit Pachariyangkun - Thai senator and ex-husband of barred Ratchaburi MP Pareena Kraikupt.
Under the previous military junta, Dr Tun Min Latt and Dr Htet Aung were sanctioned by the European Union. The relaxation of Myanmar sanctions in response to the military-controlled transition after 2011 helped them increase their personal wealth and that of the Myanmar military.
Justice For Myanmar calls for targeted sanctions to be immediately imposed against Dr Tun Min Latt and Dr Htet Aung, as well as the Star Sapphire Group of companies and their directors and shareholders.
Star Sapphire Group subsidiaries and related companies, directors and shareholders: Download Excel File (19 kb)
Letter of Commander-in-Chief (Navy) to the Office of Directorate of Procurement regarding a meeting with Star Sapphire Trading Company Limited and Israel Shipyards: Download PDF (1.6 mb)
Star Sapphire Trading Company letter to the Commander-in-Chief (Air Force) concerning Elbit Systems: Download PDF (114 kb)
Amendment to the Myanmar Allure Group investment proposal, released by Distributed Denial of Secrets: Download PDF (7.66 mb)
Myanmar Investment Commission permit for Star Sapphire Hotel Company Limited, released by Distributed Denial of Secrets: Download PDF (1.2 mb)
Brokering deals for arms and equipment
Documents recently leaked to Justice For Myanmar indicate that the Star Sapphire Trading Company Limited – a subsidiary of Star Sapphire Group – has played a key role in brokering deals of arms and military equipment for the Myanmar military over many years.
The Star Sapphire Trading Company’s Managing Director, Dr Tun Min Latt, who is a major shareholder in the company, has been directly involved in these deals.
According to a reliable source with knowledge of the arms trade, Dr Tun Min Latt has direct access to Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing and has dealt in defence technology and products from China and, previously, Israel.
For instance, he had upgraded the Myanmar military’s small arms, including sniper rifles, with Israeli technology, according to a source with knowledge of the arms industry. He also plays a major role in facilitating arms contracts with suppliers in China, and is the Myanmar agent of arms manufacturer NORINCO, according to a source.
NORINCO has provided armoured personnel carriers, 100mm guns and other arms to the Myanmar army. Wanbao Mining and Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Limited, NORINCO subsidiaries, operate the notorious Letpadaung and Sabae Taung & Kyay Sin Taung copper mines with MEHL.
One leaked Ministry of Defence procurement document shows that Star Sapphire Trading Company purchased a jig and tools for ship construction on behalf of Myanmar’s navy. The budget for delivery charges alone was almost USD$300,000, re-allocated for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. We cannot confirm which company the equipment was purchased from.
Following that, a meeting was planned to discuss ship construction between officials from the Myanmar Navy and project partners, Star Sapphire Trading Company and Israel Shipyards Ltd. Evidence of the meeting, which was scheduled to take place in a Myanmar Army Directorate of Procurement Office, comes from a leaked confidential letter from the Commander-In-Chief of Myanmar’s navy.
In 2015, while Myanmar was under United States and European Union arms embargoes, the Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar’s air force attended a meeting on security cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Defence, according to a letter leaked to Justice For Myanmar.
After the trip, the letter shows, the Star Sapphire Trading Company inquired with the Commander-in-Chief of the air force regarding the submission of orders for military equipment manufactured by Elbit Systems, the Israel-based defence electronics company.
The equipment included a helmet display and tracking system with night vision for military pilots to be used in aircraft owned by the Myanmar Air Force; Skylark unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV); and an air surveillance system.
In the same leaked letter, the Star Sapphire Trading Company requested further guidance from the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force in order to assist with the proper installation of defence equipment. The letter shows that the Star Sapphire Trading Company was playing a key role in facilitating the deal.
While Justice For Myanmar cannot confirm the final status of all these orders, it has been confirmed that the Myanmar military did acquire Elbit Systems' Skylark UAV, which it has used in attacks in western Myanmar. A Skylark UAV was captured by the Arakan Army in 2020, during operations in which the Myanmar military committed war crimes.
In early 2016, Elbit Systems – through its subsidiary Electro Optics Elop Ltd – also sold equipment to Myanmar’s navy valued at almost USD$300,000. This included systems for optimal observation, surveillance, and tracking and targeting to be installed on three frigates and two corvette warships.
It is highly likely that this deal was also brokered by the Star Sapphire Trading Company, because a source affirms that Star Sapphire Trading Company had been the only local agent of Elbit Systems in Myanmar.
According to another leaked letter from June 2015, the Star Sapphire Trading Company sought information about a radar system manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd (IAI) for the Myanmar Air Force. The document claimed that the Star Sapphire Trading Company was the sole representative of IAI’s products in Myanmar, with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Defence.
Further, IAI – an Israeli state-owned enterprise – agreed to provide six Super-Dvora Mk III gunboats to the Myanmar Navy, delivered in April 2017. As a result, the United Nations’ Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar listed IAI as an arms and military equipment supplier to the Myanmar military.
The UN Fact-Finding Mission concluded in its 2019 report that Israel is one of the countries that has enabled the transfer of arms and arms-related assistance to Myanmar, despite the foreseeable adverse human rights impact.
Notably though, an order of the Israeli Supreme Court led to the revocation of military export licenses in 2017. The Israeli government also banned representatives of Myanmar from attending arms expos after it was revealed that some had attended one such event in 2019, despite the export ban.
However, also in 2019, Future Science Company Limited procured Elbit Systems' UAV parts for the Myanmar military for maintenance work, according to a document leaked to Justice For Myanmar and confirmed by the New York Times.
Business links to Min Aung Hlaing's daughter, Khin Thiri Thet Mon
More recently, one of the companies in the Star Sapphire Group, which has so far escaped being targeted for sanctions, has quietly changed its name: Star Thiri Investment Limited is now operating as Royal Mawtaung Mining Company Limited.
The company is directly linked to the Myanmar military through some of its co-owners: Dr Win Min Soe, wife of Dr Tun Min Latt, and Dr Htet Aung, son of former brigadier-general Zin Yaw. Both currently play key roles as owners and directors of the company.
The company has been tied to the military since it was founded in April 2020 by Dr Win Min Soe and Khin Thiri Thet Mon, daughter of junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Khin Thiri Thet Mon left the company in July 2020, according to corporate records.
The company is registered for business in multiple sectors, including coal mining, energy, construction, finance, real estate and gambling. No public information was found regarding its activities.
In March 2021, the United States sanctioned Khin Thiri Thet Mon as well as her brother Aung Pyae Sone and six of the companies they own, in response to the attempted coup led by their father.
A short time later, in April 2021, Star Thiri Investment’s name was changed. Considering the recent sanctions and the fact that the company was only founded in April 2020, the name change may indicate an effort to avoid further sanctions.
According to the records of Myanmar’s Director of Investment and Company Administration (DICA), the company’s directors were also changed to the current owners and directors, Dr Win Min Soe, Dr Htet Aung and Aye Thandar Lwin.
Royal Mawtaung Mining is registered at the same Naypyidaw address as Star Sapphire Dragon.
Gambling with the generals
In 1999, under the former military junta, Dr Tun Min Latt's father, Khin Maung Latt, in his role as Director General of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, signed a 30-year deal with the Thai-registered company Allure Group for a casino resort in Tachilek, a town bordering Thailand. The casino, Allure Resort, was built on the site of the state-owned Shan Yoma Guest House, on almost 5 acres of prime riverfront land, and opened in 2003.
For Allure Group, the deal was signed by Upakit Pachariyangkun, a current Senator, Thai businessperson and former Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, who is a close and longstanding business partner of Dr Tun Min Latt.
The original agreement specified an annual lease payment to the military-controlled Directorate of Hotels and Tourism of US$120,000 or 6% of total gross revenue.
The 1999 contract between the military junta and Allure Group specifies that the resort was to include "electric and electronic machines, slot machines, and all sort of recreation and entertainment".
To operate the casino, Tun Min Latt and Upakit Pachariyangkun registered Myanmar Allure Group in 2000, according to OpenCorporates.
Star Sapphire Company Limited built the casino, according to an archive of the company's website.
In November 2017, during the Myanmar military's campaign of genocide against the Rohingya, a new deed was signed in which the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism transferred all rights, titles and interests in the casino to the Myanmar Army's Office of the Quartermaster General. That was despite the original agreement specifying that "the Directorate of Hotels and Tourism is the owner of the land."
This gave the Myanmar military the state's 6% share of the casino's revenue, at a time when the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism was under the National League for Democracy-led government. This also allowed the Myanmar military and Allure Group to hide the payments from parliamentary and auditor general scrutiny, under a system designed to protect the military's business interests.
Upakit Pachariyangkun again signed the 2017 contract as chairperson of Allure Group.
In 2013, the formerly London AIM-listed company, All Active Asset Capital, acquired a 7% stake in Myanmar Allure for US$2 million. On February 15, 2021, shortly after the military's illegal coup attempt, All Active Asset Capital sold their stake in Allure Group to the British Virgin Islands registered company Oxbow Enterprises Limited for $637,000, after writing-down close to £1 million.
Oxbow Enterprises Limited is a company of former Ernst & Young auditor Yuhi Horiguchi.
Myanmar Allure Group is listed as a Star Sapphire company on an archive of its website, and in Myanmar media reporting. However, in Myanmar's corporate registry, Myanmar Allure Group's controlling shareholder is listed as Allure Group Company Limited, incorporated in Thailand. According to the Thai corporate registry, Allure Group is currently 100% Thai-owned, although a Myanmar citizen, likely to be Tun Min Latt, held a minor stake until 2020. This suggests that Tun Min Latt's Thai associates are acting as his proxies in the casino investment.
Tun Min Latt has used an Allure Group email for Star Sapphire business, including to register with Myanmar's energy ministry to deal with foreign oil companies and for his trading and tourism businesses.
Upakit Pachariyangkun divested from Myanmar Allure Group in August 2019, before joining the Senate. He sold the casino resort for US$8.15 million to his associate, Chakris Kajkumjorndej, who is linked to both Upakit and Tun Min Latt through an energy business.
Although Chakris is a Thai citizen, funds were paid into an account at Cambodia's BIC Bank.
The Allure Resort, and its connection to Star Sapphire’s wider network of business interests, raises serious money laundering and illicit financing concerns.
Star Sapphire's power play
Dr Tun Min Latt and his associates are also developing a gas-fired combined cycle power plant in Kanbauk, Tanintharyi Region.
Under a 2014 agreement between the military's proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)-led Tanintharyi Region government, Star Sapphire Company Limited and Andaman Power and Utility Company Limited, a 20MW pilot power generation project was built on 3 acres of land provided by the Tanintharyi government.
A second phase, to build and operate a 200MW power plant, is still under development, involving a Power Purchasing Agreement with the state-owned Electric Power Generation Enterprise, signed on March 28, 2016, days before the ministry was transferred to the National League for Democracy. The project involves construction of a pipeline to supply gas from PTTEP's Zawtika project.
Upakit Pachariyangkun and Tun Min Latt were both directors of Andaman Power and Utility Company Limited (formerly Dawei Power and Utility Company Limited), while Chakris Kajkumjorndej and a British Virgin Islands subsidiary of All Asia Asset Capital were shareholders. An archive of the Andaman Power website described Upakit as "Chairman and Founder".
Andaman Power and Utility claimed to have been named by the former USDP-led military proxy government as the sole power provider in the Dawei area, site of a controversial special economic zone and deep sea port project, despite the company's lack of experience in the energy sector.
United Power of Asia shareholders approved the acquisition, despite the deal's independent financial advisor advising against the transaction, due to an inflated purchase price, uncertainty over the project, United Power of Asia's lack of energy experience and a conflict of interest as a result of Upakit Pachariyangkun being the biggest shareholder in both companies.
United Power of Asia's majority-owned Myanmar subsidiary, Myanmar UPA, is registered at a Star Sapphire address in Naypyidaw, over 700 km from Kanbauk. The board is made up of individuals closely linked to Tun Min Latt, including Khine Wint Mon, who is also a shareholder in a number of Star Sapphire companies. Three of the nine Andaman Power and Utility shareholders before the acquisition are current or former Myanmar Allure Group shareholders, associated with the Allure Resort casino in Tachilek.
According to Thailand's company registry, Tun Min Latt is currently the sole shareholder of Myanmar Allure Group (P&E), registered in Mae Sai, a Thai town across the river from Tachilek. An archive of the Andaman Power & Utility website states that the company supplied electricity to Tachilek and had an office in Chiang Rai, the northern Thai province that includes Mae Sai.
Channelling funds to MEHL
Also in the energy sector, Myanmar Business Consultant Group Limited, part of Star Sapphire group, is the local partner in two Yangon Region liquefied natural gas projects, in partnership with the Hong Kong stock exchange-listed firm VPower Group and the Chinese state-owned firm China National Technical Import and Export Corporation (CNTIC).
The site of one of the facilities belongs to MEHL, according to a Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) memo on the project, released by Distributed Denial of Secrets.
The YG-2 project involves a build-operate-transfer agreement with MEHL, which means that MEHL will take ownership of the facility at the end of the lease, thereby providing the military with a lucrative future asset.
Myanmar Business Consultant Group is responsible for channelling the lease payments to MEHL, on behalf of their foreign partners.
MBCG also derives additional income from the power project as it owns 43 per cent of a company called MCV Terminal, which runs the facility where liquefied natural gas is taken off tanker ships to be fed to the plants.
Hotel Dawei deal financing the Ministry of Home Affairs
The group’s subsidiary, Star Sapphire Hotel Company Limited, has expanded its hotel business on public land through its close relationship to the military.
Dr Tun Min Latt and Dr Win Min Soe are shareholders of the Star Sapphire Hotel Company, which was awarded a build-operate-transfer contract in 2013 for the Hotel Dawei development, by the USDP-led government.
According to the project's Myanmar Investment Commission permit, released by Distributed Denial of Secrets, the Star Sapphire Hotel Company has developed the hotel and tourism business on almost 4 acres of prime land.
The land is leased from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is directly controlled by the Myanmar military under its 2008 constitution. The Ministry is responsible for the Myanmar Police Force, Bureau of Special Investigations and prisons.
The lease term is for 30 years, with possibilities for further extensions. The company only pays an artificially low price of 1 million kyats (USD$ 560) per month for the land use.
The contract was awarded just before the launch of the Tanintharyi Tourism Plan, which aimed to develop sustainable tourism in the Tanintharyi area in coordination with international nature conservation organisations, and close to the deep sea port and special economic zone developments.
Since the illegal attempted coup, Myanmar police have been responsible for deliberate killings, arbitrary detention and torture, which amount to crimes against humanity.
Hotel Dawei continues to provide generals with a source of revenue, supporting the military's campaign of terror.
Mining licenses awarded to military family companies
Sapphire Star companies are also involved in the exploration, exploitation and marketing of minerals.
Under the USDP-led government, the Star Sapphire Company Limited received licences for tin and feldspar exploration projects in the Tanintharyi River basin, an ethnic area where there has been protracted armed conflict. The forests are home to globally endangered species, including tigers, sun bears, leopards and tapirs.
In 2010, Upakit Pachariyangkun registered the Dawei Feldspar Mining Company Limited in Thailand, likely to profit from mining with Dr Tun Min Latt.
Another business entity of the Star Sapphire group – the Tha Byu Mining Company Limited – was awarded a large scale production sharing licenses for antimony mining in 2001, under the former military junta, covering an area of almost 4,000 acres.
The licence was provided by the military-controlled Mining Enterprise 3 (since incorporated into Mining Enterprise 1).
Star Sapphire has operated the mine jointly with the Thai company SAMCON Company Limited, according to a report on antimony mining in Myanmar.
Kyainseikgyi is an ethnic Karen and Mon area where the Myanmar military has a history of committing grave human rights violations.
Production started in 2004, channelling funds to the junta as it committed atrocities throughout Myanmar.
According to a 2006 media report, Tha Byu Mining also established a polluting tin and antimony processing factory in the Three Pagodas Pass township, with investment from Thai businesspeople.
Local junta authorities tried to shut down the factory for operating without permission.
While there is now no transparency over mining licences, it is highly likely that Star Sapphire is continuing to mine since the attempted coup, generating revenue for the terrorist junta.
Mining Enterprise 1 was recently sanctioned by the European Union.
Dr Tun Min Latt is the controlling shareholder of Tha Byu Mining and its subsidiary, Star Sapphire Dragon Company Limited. Tha Byu Mining is registered at the same Naypyidaw address as Myanmar UPA.
Donations for genocide
The Star Sapphire group has a history of providing donations in support of the Myanmar military. For example, the group donated 100 million kyat (approximately USD$71,000) to the Myanmar military in support of its ‘clearance operations’ against the Rohingya people in 2017.
This donation was identified by the United Nations’ Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, among a number of other companies that contributed funds to the military’s 2017 campaign of genocide.
Sanction Star Sapphire Group
The Star Sapphire Group of Companies and the military families that control them have supported the Myanmar military through brokering arms deals and providing sources of revenue, including through the possible proceeds of illegal gambling.
Yet, the Star Sapphire Group of Companies has not been subject to any of these new sanctions, and are still able to carry out their business with impunity.
Star Sapphire's business with the Myanmar military aids and abets the military’s war crimes and crimes against humanity, and allows their shareholders to continue to profit from the military's systemic corruption.
The international community urgently needs to impose targeted sanctions on the Star Sapphire Group of Companies and their directors and shareholders.
Pressure is needed to cut off Star Sapphire's access to international banks. An archive of the group's website states that they use Standard Chartered and Siam Commercial Bank.
As a senator, Upakit Pachariyangkun's business dealings with Star Sapphire and the Myanmar military raise serious questions for the Thai public.
Upakit has profited from corruption and operated a possibly illegal casino business, colluding to transfer it to the Myanmar military in an act that amounts to the theft of public assets.
Through his partnership with Dr Tun Min Latt and his father, Upakit Pachariyangkun has provided revenue to finance the Myanmar military's atrocity crimes against the people of Myanmar, making him complicit in those crimes.
We urge Thai civil society to ensure Upakit is held accountable for his actions in Myanmar.
Tun Min Latt's use of Thailand and Singapore for his business dealings with the Myanmar military is yet another case of ASEAN's failed five-point conensus, one year on, continuing to enable military-linked business.
ASEAN’s failed consensus has only served to block and delay effective action from the UN and international community, while conflicts of interest within ASEAN governments embolden the junta to continue its terror campaign against the people.
The international community must stop deferring to ASEAN to resolve the Myanmar crisis. Impose targeted sanctions and a global arms embargo to stop the flow of arms and funds to the terrorist junta, and to support the Myanmar people's Spring Revolution.
Correction (March 22, 2023): Text corrected to reflect the possibility that the Allure casino was legally licenced.