— Kant Kaw/ People’s Spring
No sooner had the Qatar-based Ooredoo Group announced the sale of its telecom business in Myanmar on September 8, 2022, than some leading local media reported that the de facto man behind the trade might be Zaw Win Shein of the Ayeyar Hinthar company.
Nine Communications Pte. Ltd., newly founded in Singapore in mid-July, nominally purchased Ooredoo Myanmar. The new company was said to have been purchased by Nyan Win from Horizon Telecom and Link Family Office, which the Thailand-based B Grimm Group partly owns.
The speculation that the de facto man behind the trade might be Zaw Win Shein was raised because Nyan Win, one of the high-profile at Horizon Telecom, is also a shareholder in A Bank and other businesses owned by the Ayeyar Hinthar company. The group behind Nyan Win is not Zaw Win Shein and Ayeyar Hinthar, but some other group far more powerful and resourceful.
Selling an enterprise worth 575 million is not as simple as daily trade. This deal is more complicated and secretive, as the main stakeholders wish to remain anonymous.
Besides, 575 million is only a value, not the actual transaction rate. Of which, 420 million is a line of credit to pay Ooredoo Singapore, which owns Ooredoo Myanmar. Indeed, such a line of credit is common for international investors. It is done to make it easier to return the income to the original company before paying taxes. Paying off debt is a priority when getting permission to transfer money to other countries. If there is a transaction, this debt will be canceled, and the actual purchase price is only $150 million.
To buy the business from a large international communications company and get permission from the military council requires connections, policy support, and safeguards. As a former Chief Engineer of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Nyan Win does not have much capacity to influence the policy circle.
A reliable source from the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology says that Nyan Win and Zeyar Aung are very close. Zeyar Aung was a former minister of three ministries under the Thein Sein administration, including the ministry where Nyan Win had worked as a chief engineer. Zeyar Aung was also the chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission. By marrying Jonathan Kyaw Thaung’s aunt, he became a member of the Kyaw Thaung family tree. In late 2021, the New York Times published an article about their relationship.
The New York Times investigated and revealed the Kyaw Thaung family’s strategically hidden information. 40-year-old Jonathan Kyaw Thaung is the public face of the Kyaw Thaung family. Although many of his companies, including the KT Group, pretend to be engaged in property and import-export businesses, their main source of income comes from the procurement and import of military weapons, including helicopters, for the Myanmar military.
The New York Times described the Kyaw Thaung family, “Ultimately, the story of the Kyaw Thaungs parallels that of Myanmar: a country of vast potential foiled by a ruthless military and a family willing to compromise themselves in pursuit of its riches.”
The world-famous newspaper wrote that behind closed doors, the Kyaw Thaung family members, charismatic, Western-educated, and English-speaking, relied on insider deal-making with the military leaders that have enriched an entire class of cronies. Jonathan Kyaw Thaung and Zeyar Aung were the main masterminds behind the deal of Ooredoo withdrawal from Myanmar.
Those who show interest – near and far
While the people of Myanmar resisted and boycotted the military council. In contrast, the military shot and killed thousands of peaceful protestors, the military’s cronies competed for large economic dividends. When big telecom companies said they might leave the country, domestic conglomerates with ties to the military council tried to get into the telecom business by working with foreign companies.
Telenor, the Norwegian telecoms company, also announced that it would sell its Myanmar unit to the M1 Group, owned by the Lebanese millionaire, and its local partner Shwe Byain Phyu in 2021, with the final transfer taking place at the beginning of this year. The owner of Shwe Byain Phyu Company (it is speculated that members of the coup leader’s family hold shares in it), Thein Win Zaw, has also become rich in a short period. They established an intermediary company in Singapore and purchased Telenor Myanmar step by step.
Ooredoo’s withdrawal took longer than Telenor’s because its finances were more complicated, and the market and procedures were unfavorable.
According to a business analyst based in Thailand, a giant telecom company in Thailand, which sold more than 10% of its stake to a telecom from China, also showed interest in buying Ooredoo Myanmar. However, due to the complexities of the procedures, the Link Family Office, which is part of the B Grimm Group in Thailand, established a warehouse.
A business profiler has shared that there is regular contact between Link Family Office and KT Group due to the sectors in which both conglomerates work. The Thailand-based business analyst has done a briefing report for B. Grimm in the first quarter of 2022, including business and personal profiles. In the mid of 2022, B Grimm directly contacted Jonathan Kyaw Thaung.
The Need for SAC’s Blessing
IGE, owned by Nay Aung, the son of retired minister Aung Thaung, known as a hardliner during the Thein Sein administration, tried to buy Ooredoo Myanmar as well. The attempt was made through the One Matrix Investment (TOMV), which was set up by Dr. Myo Ohn, also known as Myo Myint Ohn, an expert technical consultant with experience in telecommunications company transactions, and Alan Sinfield, who used to be the CEO of Ananda. They did not, however, receive the blessing of the Min Aung Hlaing-led SAC as Zeyar Aung did.
Zeyar Aung has been keeping a low profile since the end of the USDP administration. Unlike the former minister and current USDP leaders like Than Htay and Khin Yi, he has never gone to the public or said anything against Min Aung Hlaing.
Also, he helped make policy when Ooredoo came to the country in 2013 and started doing business in 2014. The national staff of Ooredoo Myanmar also approached him.
Before becoming the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Zeyar Aung was the Minister of Rail Transportation and the Minister of Energy when the military ran Myanmar. He was also the chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission and a trusted advisor to Thein Sein’s government. He was also the commander of the military headquarters for the Northern Region and the battalion commander of the headquarters for the No. 88 Light Infantry Division. The UN has found out that both battalions have been committing war crimes against the people of Myanmar for a long time.
Jointly organized by uncle and nephew
The most important fact is that Zeyar Aung became the uncle of Jonathan Kyaw Thaung as he was married to Jonathan’s aunt.
After getting in touch with Link Family Office, Jonathan Kyaw Thaung approached his uncle-in-law, Zeyar Aung, and asked him to facilitate the process. Zeyar Aung quickly gathered his men and made a small team to help him convince powerful people in Naypyidaw and Qatar. He also communicated with Qatar’s Chargé d’Affaires a.i. to Myanmar.
Zeyar Aung instructed Nyan Win to handle the required procedures, such as establishing a warehouse named Nine Company, which consists of Nyan Win, Myo Ohn from Campana Group, and the Link Family Office. Jonathan Kyaw Thaung will hold Ooredoo’s capital, worth USD 50 million. According to some reliable sources close to SAC, there is another twist in paying $50 million locally for Ooredoo. That is, another crony will work with Jonathan Kyaw Thaung to pay 50 million USD that went into the local operations of Ooredoo. He has been known to be an old crony close to the military since the Than Shwe administration. However, People’s Spring is still investigating who he is.
The deal was finalized in the last week of August, and the signing ceremony for sale was done at the Kempinski Hotel in Naypyidaw. Campana gets involved in this deal because it is the only consultant in the telecom sector in the region. Campana’s role in Nine Company will gradually decrease, as stated in their background agreement for consulting.
New owners of Ooredoo Myanmar
Since this is the case, Jonathan Kyaw Thaung and a friend are the main new owners of Ooredoo Myanmar. A businessman close to the military said they both have close ties with SAC, and the military council is certainly behind them. They will raise 50 million USD locally. In addition to the two of them, Ananda, under the IGE company of Nay Aung, will also be allowed to operate Ooredoo Myanmar within the country. And thus, Nay Aung will also receive some shares and enjoy part of the profits.
When phone operators were allowed in 2013, Jonathan Kyaw Thaung attempted to acquire the license but failed. However, this time, his ambitions were fulfilled. From the time Ooredoo entered Myanmar until its withdrawal and sale, the main actor involved in the whole trade was Zeyar Aung.
For this article, People’s Spring contacted the Campana Group of Dr. Myo Ohn, the IGE Group of Nay Aung, and Alan Sinfield via e-mail, but no one responded.
“The sale of Ooredoo Myanmar lacks transparency for its users,” an educated citizen mentioned, “surprisingly, the deal happened in such a short period.”
A middle-aged resident of Yangon shared his opinion, “the way I understand it, the purchase was made by the show company (meaning that the company was registered in Singapore only months before the deal was made) and arranged behind the scenes by the military side or the persons related to it.” To be frank, Ooredoo itself has not been honest with its users. Users should take special precautions now that all communications companies have fallen under military control. “There is absolutely no security for the users.”