Yangon – The US Treasury Department announced on October 31st that U Aung Thaung, a representative from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has been put on the US’ Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List.
The announcement was made by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) prior to US President Obama’s visit to Nay Pyi Taw. Although the US government has loosened most of its economic sanctions on Myanmar, it still maintains the SDN list.
So far during U Thein Sein’s presidency, Lieutenant-General Thein Htay has been added to the list for his involvement in arm trade. In addition, Asia Metal Company has been included in the list due to its association with the Ministry of Defense.
In a statement, Adam Szubin describes U Aung Thaung—former Minister for Industry, now a representative in the Pyithu Hluttaw, and part of the top leadership in the USDP—as “by intentionally undermining he positive political and economic transition in Burma…is perpetuating violence, oppression, and corruption”.
The statement also says that Aung Thaung has been involved in oppressing opposition democratic forces.
During the military government’s era, Aung Thaung was the Minister for Industry. Currently, he is a representative from Taung Thar district.
Although there were claims within the country that he was responsible for violence and conflicts that happened during the new government’s term, he has actively denied those claims. The surfacing of a video file of his visit to Wirathu, the nationalist head monk of Masoyein Monastery, further encouraged those claims.
The sanction will now freeze all of Aung Thaung’s assets in the United States and forbids American citizens from doing business with him.
The United States government states that it is observing the reforms and peace process in Myanmar for further support and is worried that a few individuals are sabotaging the reform movement. The statement claims that the sanction will apply to Aung Thaung as an individual and will have no effect on the Myanmar government or organizations that has relations with him.
Despite the US government’s claim, U Hla Swe, a representative and a member of USDP’s Central Committee, believes that the sanction is aimed at his party in time for the election in 2015.
“The United States did this to damage our party. I can see that they will sanction two to three more strong members of our party. Some people believe that U Aung Thaung organized the angry crowd that came out of nowhere. He has already said that he did not even know who Swan-Arshins are. So I think the U.S. is targeting our party,” U Hla Swe said.
According to the USDP community, Aung Thaung has been retiring at home due to bad health. He and his sons own many businesses including construction. However, the sanction does not include his sons.
Currently, the sanctions are placed on a few Myanmar individuals including U Tayza from Htoo Group, U Zaw Zaw from Max Myanmar, U Htun Myint Naing from Asia World Group, U Win Aung from Dagon International, U Htay Myint from Yuzana, U Khin Shwe from Zaykabar, former Minister for Electric Power U Zaw Min, former Minister for Health Dr. Kyaw Myin, former Minister of Education Dr. Chan Nyein. There are rumors that some of these sanctioned individuals might be taken off the list before President Obama’s visit.
Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski and Deputy Commander of the US Pacific Command Lt-Gen Anthony Crutchfield met with some of the sanctioned businessmen during their trip to Myanmar and suggested to them that they should allow the US government to examine their financial transactions if they wanted to be removed from the list.
U Zaw Zaw from Max Myanmar agreed to the observance, and the US Secretary of State John Kerry stayed in his hotel during the former’s visit to Myanmar. There are speculations that the sanction on Zaw Zaw might be lifted.