The Kyaw Thaung family’s business with the Myanmar military

December 25, 2021

Members of the Kyaw Thaung family operate two conglomerates with deep links to the Myanmar military: KT Group and Ky-Tha Group. The groups’ businesses have land leases with the Myanmar military and its conglomerates, and broker the sale of arms and related materiel for the Myanmar military, making them complicit in the Myanmar military’s atrocities.

Justice For Myanmar calls for targeted sanctions against KT Group and Ky-Tha Group and its directors and shareholders, to prevent the flow of revenue and arms to the illegal Myanmar military junta. To support targeted sanctions, Justice For Myanmar has published an excel file detailing entities and related individuals, along with leaked documents that provide evidence of the groups’ military ties.

Our Evidence

KT Group and Ky-Tha subsidiaries and related companies, directors and shareholders: Download Excel File (21 kb)

KT Services & Logistics Co. Ltd. Myanmar Investment Commission Proposal for Bo Aung Kyaw Terminal, released by Distributed Denial of Secrets: Download PDF (28.6 mb)

Letter of Commander-in-Chief (Navy) to the Office of Directorate of Procurement regarding contract with Ky-Tha Industrial Development Company and Thales: Download PDF (1.6 mb)

Letter of Commander-in-Chief (Air Force) to the Office of Directorate of Procurement regarding Ky-Tha Industrial Development Company and Safran: Download PDF (1.6 mb)

Kyaw Htet Kyaw Company’s letter to Commander-in-Chief (Air) regarding technical support and services for ATR and Embraer aircraft: Download PDF (1.3 mb)

Press Release

For further details on Kyaw Thaung’s family business links to the Myanmar military, see the New York Times investigation.

Kyaw Thaung started his family business in the 1950s. Initially focused on agriculture and trading, it grew under the leadership of Kyaw Thaung’s oldest son, Moe Kyaw Thaung, who gained favour with the former military dictatorship and participated in the Myanmar military’s privatisation gold rush.

From the 2000s, the third generation of the family took a key role and KT Group expanded into logistics, telecommunications, manufacturing, construction, engineering, energy and real estate.

KT Group is now led by Kyaw Thaung’s grandson, Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung, who took the reins after he graduated from Babson College in the USA in 2002. Key family members serve as directors.

Ky-Tha Group remains under the leadership of Moe Kyaw Thaung, with some family members also playing a role.  

The two conglomerates and associated entities comprise of a network of nearly 30 businesses registered in Myanmar and Singapore, as well as a charity in the UK.

According to sources, Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung has a close relationship with junta chief and war criminal Min Aung Hlaing, and crony Aung Ko Win, who heads KBZ Group and acts as a middleman to procure items that may breach US and EU sanctions on Myanmar, including aircraft. For instance, the New York Times details the procurement of a Eurocopter helicopter via Brazil.

As with other crony conglomerates, the Kyaw Thaung groups’ connections to the Myanmar military provide access to lucrative state contracts and licenses, allowing shareholders to enrich themselves from the military’s systemic corruption.

The two groups are complicit in Myanmar military’s grave human rights violations through business deals with the military and its conglomerates, donations to the military during the 2017 Rohingya genocide and through the sale of arms and related materiel.

KT Group finances the Myanmar military through land leases with the Ministry of Defence, the military conglomerates Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). The Ministry of Defence is involved in financial transactions for the purchase of weapons for the Myanmar military, while MEHL finances military units across Myanmar, including those directly responsible for atrocity crimes.

KT Pegu Development Private Limited & KT Club Development Project Company Ltd

Via KT Pegu Development Private Limited, KT Group holds the lease for the Pegu Club, an 1880 heritage building that was the site of an exclusive club for British officials. The club was closed in 1965 and later became Office of the Army Accountant.

In 2017, KT Group was awarded a 50-year lease for the site under a build-operate-transfer deal with the Myanmar military, with payments going to an off-budget account at the Ministry of Defence. The Group now use it as an office and venue for exclusive functions.

According to a PropertyGuru report, the project is being developed in partnership with MEC for a total investment of US$100 million.

Bangkok-based architects Beaumont Partnership have been hired for work on the site.

Deborah Kyaw Thaung and Harriet Kyaw Thaung, granddaughters of Kyaw Thaung, have served as executive directors of the club, while Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung is the main shareholder and a director.

KT Services & Logistics Company Ltd

Through KT Service & Logistics Company Limited, KT Group holds the lease for Bo Aung Kyaw port in central Yangon. The port is leased from MEHL under a build-operate-transfer deal. Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung is CEO and a shareholder.

A Myanmar Investment Commission project proposal, leaked earlier in the year by Distributed Denial of Secrets, shows that KT Group leased the 10.452-acre terminal in 2016 for fifty years. MEHL receives USD$3 million annual lease payments. KT Group may therefore have paid US$18 million to MEHL since the start of the lease.

As part of the project, KT Services & Logistics planned to build an eight-storey commercial office tower on the site, designed by Beaumont Partnership.

KT Group was awarded the lease after the port was privatised by Myanma Port Authority in 2011. The privatisation of the port is part of the Myanmar military’s systemic conflict of interest. The Myanmar military has long ensured that the port regulator is headed by an MEHL director.  

After taking over the port, KT Group outsourced management to UK-based Portia Management Services Ltd. Portia has confirmed to Burma Campaign UK that they will not renew their contract after it expires in 2021.

KT Development Co. Ltd

According to leaked Myanmar Investment Commission data, KT Development Company, owned by Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung, holds a lease from the Ministry of Defence for 11.753 acres of prime Yangon real estate under a fifty-year build-operate-transfer agreement. KT Group plans to build and operate a hotel, retail complex and serviced offices.

KT Development received a Myanmar Investment Commission permit for the project in March 2016. If completed, it will create a lucrative future asset for the terrorist Myanmar military.  

Kyaw Thaung’s family companies are involved in the procurement of arms and dual use goods for the Myanmar military, making the businesses complicit in the Myanmar military’s international crimes.

For additional details of military procurement involving Kyaw Thaung’s family businesses, see the New York Times investigation.

Kyaw Htet Kyaw Co. Ltd

Kyaw Htet Kyaw, established in 2012, is jointly owned by Moe Kyaw Thaung (the company’s managing director) and his son Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung. The company is a broker for the procurement of equipment and services for the Myanmar military, including the air force and the army’s Directorate of Procurement. The company is also involved in other sectors, including agriculture, transport and logistics and warehousing.

According to a leaked 2018 Directorate of Procurement document, Kyaw Htet Kyaw won a 1.2 million Euro tender for the purchase of a Sub-Atlantic Super Mohawk Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), manufactured by the US-based Forum Energy Technologies. According to the document, the transaction was to be carried out through Ky-Tha Trading in Singapore.

A 2017 letter leaked to Justice For Myanmar shows Kyaw Htet Kyaw Company’s attempts to provide technical support and services to the Myanmar Air Force for ATR and Embraer aircraft. The Myanmar military has used these for transport and VIP travel. At the time, their partner was the now defunct French aviation company, Atlantic Air Industry.

Kyaw Htet Kyaw has benefited from the Myanmar military’s crony capitalism under the Union Solidarity and Development Party-led government. In 2012, the company won a lease from the Ministry of Agriculture to develop a 125.22-acre production facility. In 2019, Kyaw Htet Kyaw fired more than 300 protesting workers from two jute factories. In 2015, Kyaw Htet Kyaw won the rights to 152.22 acres of state-owned land in Yangon, also from the Ministry of Agriculture.

Ky-Tha Industrial Development Co. Ltd and Ky-Tha Trading Pte Ltd

Ky-Tha Industrial Development and Ky-Tha Trading procure arms and related materiel and services for the Myanmar military. Ky-Tha Industrial Development is owned by Moe Kyaw Thaung while Ky-Tha Trading (formerly Amari Countertrade), registered in Singapore, is owned by Moe Kyaw Thaung and Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung.

Leaked documents give a glimpse into Ky-Tha’s activities.

At the height of the Myanmar military’s 2017 campaign of genocide against the Rohingya, Ky-Tha Industrial Development organised a secret meeting between French arms company Safran and the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, according to a leaked document. The meeting was to discuss technical support for Mi-17 and Eurocopter Dolphin helicopters. It was scheduled to involve a five-member delegation from Safran, led by a senior project manager and technical director.

The companies have also brokered radar. Leaked documents show Ky-Tha Trading was tasked to procure and install Thales Coast Watcher 100s for the Myanmar Navy, a French-designed long-range coastal surveillance radar. One contract was awarded in Dec 2015 and valued at USD$ 0.2 million. A second contract was awarded in Oct 2016 and valued at US$1.9 million, which included spare parts for delivery in 2017 and 2018. Then in September 2017, Ky-Tha brokered a meeting between Thales and the Myanmar military.

In September 2017, Ky-Tha also brokered a meeting between Thales representatives and senior Myanmar Navy officials regarding the contract, a leaked document shows.

According to the Linkedin profile of a Ky-Tha industrial engineer, Thales staff worked with Ky-Tha and the Myanmar Navy on-site for installation of the radar. One Coast Watcher has been transferred to Myanmar and installed at Letkokkon, south of Yangon, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. The Linkedin profile also mentions engineering work with the Myanmar army at sites in Kyauk Phyu and Coco Island, although it is unclear if they are for Coast Watchers or other equipment.

A leaked 2020-21 budget estimate from the Office of the Quartermaster General includes 6 x "V-SAT Bandwidth for Coast Watcher", evidence that the military is continuing to seek support for the radar.

Ky-Tha had a well-connected French employee on its staff around the time that the second contract was awarded. Thierry Poignant, a former civil servant posted at the French Embassy in Yangon, served as general manager at Ky-Tha from September 2016 to November 2017, before transferring to Thales, where he is now strategic and international prospective director.

Sun Apex Holdings Ltd

Sun Apex Holdings Limited is a subsidiary of KT Group in the oil and gas sector. It has a licence for onshore block EP-4 through a consortium with Russian-owned Bashneft International and Myanmar military junta-controlled Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise. The project as awarded in 2013 under the Union Solidarity and Development Party-led government. Ownership is structured through a shell company registered in the British Virgin Islands, Well Perfection Ltd. Myo Thant, who is a key advisor of Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung and a significant shareholder and director in KT Group subsidiaries, is a director and shareholder of Sun Apex. The company’s managing director, Moe San Aung is part of KBZ Group and serves as managing director of AIR KBZ.

Sun Apex Holdings has registered offices in both Myanmar and Singapore. The Singapore office is registered at the same address as another KT Group subsidiary, Myanmar Telephone Private Ltd, which has been “struck off”.

According to the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) permit, MOGE was slated to receive USD$ 4 million as a signature bonus, as well as a production split and production bonus of at least 60%.

KBZ Industries Co. Ltd

KBZ Industries Co. Ltd. is a unit of KBZ Group of Companies, co-owned by Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung. The company, previously called Pangpet Cement Pte. Ltd., operates the Pang Pet Cement Plant Project in Hopong, Shan, Myanmar, although Justice For Myanmar cannot confirm the current status of the project.

According to EITI data, KBZ Industries was granted lucrative mining licenses under the previous military junta and the Union Solidarity and Development Party-led government. These included a 642.1 acres licence for limestone mining near Thaungyi, Shan State, granted in 2011, and another for gypsum mining in Moukmel, Shan State, granted in 2014. These mines operate under a revenue sharing arrangement with the Myanmar military junta, and are likely still in operation.

Before Sun Apex was established, Bashneft and KBZ Industries signed an MOU in April 2012 to bid for oil and gas assets in Myanmar.

Donations for genocide

KT Group made financial donations to the Myanmar military in support of its “clearance operations” against the Rohingya, which were identified by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar. A donation was made by KT Development to war criminal Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on September 1, 2017. On September 21, 2017, another donation was made by KT Group to Lt Gen Aung Kyaw Zaw, a commander responsible for the Rohingya genocide.

In regard to KT Group 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.

KT Group continues to maintain a registered charity in the UK, KT Care Foundation. The Charity Commission must investigate if KT Care Foundation was involved in the 2017 donations to the Myanmar military. Justice For Myanmar contacted KT Care Foundation to ask if it was involved in the 2017 donations to the Myanmar military but did not receive a response.

Update (Jan 13, 2022)

Marble Pscyhological Services has been removed from the list of KT and Ky-Tha companies after confirmation of the Kyaw Thaung family's divestment from the company.