A court in Myanmar has sentenced a former senior official with the country’s Central Bank, who was arrested in the aftermath of last year’s military coup, to 20 years in prison for graft – the same problem he had sought to eradicate during his time in office, sources said.
Authorities detained Bo Bo Nge, the deputy governor of Myanmar’s Central Bank, along with top leaders of the deposed National League for Democracy government during the Feb. 1, 2021 takeover. A junta court sentenced him on Thursday for the “mismanagement of banks trading foreign currency” at the end of a months-long secret trial, sources close to his family told Radio Free Asia.
Myanmar’s previous junta jailed Bo Bo Nge in 1988 after taking part in pro-democracy protests as a student and fled to the U.S. following his release years later.
Originally working as a dishwasher, he obtained a master’s degree in economics from Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate degree in the same field from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London before returning to his home country when the civilian-led NLD won Myanmar’s 2015 general election.
The NLD government appointed him deputy governor of the Central Bank in 2017 and he worked to reform Myanmar’s outdated financial system until his arrest at his home early in the morning on the day of the coup.
In May, the junta-backed Anti-Corruption Commission charged Bo Nge for allegedly failing to tax donations to Myanmar from the billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, failing to monitor foreign exchange management, as well as the banking sector and accounting departments in his role as deputy governor of the Central Bank.
The ACC accused him of causing the loss of 102 million kyats (U.S. $48,500) in tax revenue from stamp duty, a 360 million kyats (U.S. $171,000) loss for not collecting tax from OSF-Myanmar’s deposit of U.S. $5 million, and the loss of 655 million kyats (U.S. $312,000) in tax from his decision not to deposit a U.S. $350 million loan from the U.S. in a higher-interest earning account than the one he used at the Singapore branch of the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, according to a report by The Irrawaddy.
Sean Turnell, a former economic advisor to Myanmar’s deposed State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD, slammed the regime in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Friday for what he said was its hypocritical sentencing of Bo Bo Nge on corruption charges.
“Bo Bo Nge is a great guy who was fighting against corruption and pushing for reform,” said the Australian national, who the junta released from prison last month after nearly two years behind bars.
“Before he got there, Myanmar’s largest private bank, KBZ, was the only bank they had operating internationally in Singapore. Bo Bo Nge and the Central Bank opened more accounts in other countries and yet the regime charged him with corruption,” he said.
“All the key reformers who were fighting the good fight peacefully are the ones in prison and the corrupt bankers are all still out there laundering money, the injustice is so extreme.”
Economy in a tailspin
The junta’s stewardship of Myanmar’s economy since the coup has been devastating. Foreign investment has fled the country amid widespread conflict between the military and anti-junta forces, as well as a crackdown that has seen troops loyal to the regime kill 2,611 civilians and arrest 16,500 others since the coup, according to Thailand’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).
In its latest report on Myanmar, released in July, the World Bank said the country’s economy shrank by 18% within the first year of junta rule. A nearly two-thirds decline in Foreign Direct Investment compared to the previous year, as well as dramatic reductions in investment inflows and massive outflows of foreign currency deposits, contributed to a 47.5% depreciation of the kyat between the beginning of 2021 and October of last year, the Bank said.
In an interview with RFA following his release from prison, Sean Turnell characterized the junta’s management of the country as “terrible,” saying the economy “has basically been destroyed.”
“The exchange rate has collapsed … The foreign investment and all the nice [development] programs that get set up are all just ruined and all get pushed aside,” he said at the time.
“We’re back to the Myanmar of 20 years ago. The country has made a great leap backwards. And while the people of Myanmar suffer, the military has made sure to look after themselves. It’s not too far to say they have destroyed the country.”
While junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has called on the people of Myanmar to reduce their consumption of petroleum, cooking oil and electricity in a bid to stem the tide, most experts say that the country is headed for economic ruin.
The sentencing of one of the nation’s leading economists to 20 years in prison will do little to stave off such a reckoning.
Translated by Myo Myin Aung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.