January 25, 2012
Former Burmese prime minister Khin Nyunt walked free from seven years under house arrest earlier this month and into a position as patron of a philanthropic foundation owned by business tycoon and MP Khin Shwe, with a salary close to $US5,000 a month.
Khin Nyunt was among a number of high-profile prisoners released in a far-reaching amnesty on 13 January – the former premier and head of Burma’s feared intelligence body was purged in 2004 after falling foul of then-junta chief Than Shwe and handed a 44-year sentence.
During his detention little was heard of him, although it appears he cultivated a network of allies like Khin Shwe who busily prepared for his release. The tycoon told Radio Free Asia this week that the Mya Yeik Nyo Foundation, thought to have a net worth of one billion kyat ($US1.2 million) would focus efforts on building schools and hospitals in Burma’s remote ethnic regions. Students would also benefit from scholarships to attend universities in the country.
The salary expected by Khin Nyunt seems staggering in a country where a third of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, and annual GDP per capita barely passes $US400.
But recent years have seen the formation of a powerful oligarchy that has benefited hugely from the privatisation of swathes of formerly state-owned industry that gathered pace in 2010. Little transparency surrounded the overhaul of Burma’s economy, and those like Khin Shwe who stayed close to the former junta pocketed the rewards.
He now splits his time between parliament and his multiple business interests, which includes heading the Zaykabar Company, one of Burma’s largest construction and real estate outfits. He is also father-in-law to the son of powerful parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann.
Khin Nyunt said upon walking free nearly two weeks that his political career was behind him; instead, the 76-year-old pledged to focus on religious and philanthropic work.
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