A wealthy Myanmar arms broker with close ties to the leader of Myanmar’s brutal military regime was acquitted on Tuesday by a Bangkok court on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering, raising fears that he will be free to resume his activities aiding the junta.
U Tun Min Latt, who was placed under sanctions by the United States last year for supplying the Myanmar regime with weapons, had spent 16 months in a Thai jail awaiting trial. The case is the first known instance of a close associate of Myanmar’s army commander, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, being arrested abroad and put on trial since the military seized power in a coup three years ago.
The Thai authorities had accused Mr. Tun Min Latt and three associates of engaging in a scheme to launder drug money by using it to buy electricity in Thailand and sending it across the border to Myanmar. But the Thai criminal court found that the record of bank transactions presented by prosecutors did not provide sufficient evidence to prove the charges.
With the ruling, about two dozen family members and supporters of the accused burst into applause in the courtroom. Some wept tears of joy.
But Phil Robertson, the deputy director for Human Rights Watch in Asia, expressed disappointment.
“It’s hard to believe that a Burmese tycoon that many have referred to as being junta leader Min Aung Hlaing’s bagman got off,” he said. “The only people happy with this outcome are the junta generals who are increasingly desperate to find resources and, quite clearly, Tun Min Latt has proved very helpful in that regard in the past.”
In recent months, an armed resistance made up of pro-democracy forces and ethnic rebel groups has reported gaining ground against the military, saying it has seized hundreds of military outposts and dozens of towns in Myanmar’s border regions.
Thursday will mark the third anniversary of the coup led by General Min Aung Hlaing in which he seized power from Myanmar’s quasi-democratic government. Under his command, the junta has staged a brutal crackdown, killing more than 4,400 civilians and imprisoning 20,000 political prisoners, including the ousted civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mr. Tun Min Latt, the United States has said, supplied drones and aircraft parts to the regime in Myanmar. In 2019, he was photographed with General Min Aung Hlaing as they visited a Bangkok arms fair together.
At his arrest in September 2022, the Thai police found two bankbooks in the name of the general’s daughter and the deed to a luxury Bangkok condo in the name of the general’s son. The police said at the time that they had seized nearly $9 million in assets, including luxury cars, watches, handbags and cash.
Mr. Tun Min Latt also has close ties with a Thai senator, Upakit Pachariyangkun, who was charged in December on the same counts. Mr. Upakit has remained free pending an upcoming court hearing.
The two men were partners in the Myanmar Allure Group, a firm that owns a power company and a casino in Myanmar across the border from Thailand. Mr. Upakit transferred his interest in the company to a relative in 2019 after he was appointed to the Senate.
Ruangsak Suksaensri, a defense lawyer in the case who also represents Mr. Upakit, said Tuesday’s verdict would help him argue that the senator — who remains in office — did not break the law since the charges in both cases are based on the same facts. But he said he did not expect prosecutors to drop the charges against Mr. Upakit.
“This case is a big case,” Mr. Ruangsak said.