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In court testimony, MP says wrong man on trial as gunman in Ko Ni assassination

Kyi Lin, centre, accused of being involved in the murder of Ko Ni, is escorted as he arrives at the court in Rangoon on 17 March 2017. (Photo: AFP)

In an unexpected development in the ongoing trial of the alleged assassin of prominent legal scholar Ko Ni, a sitting lawmaker took the stand on Thursday to claim that another man, whom he identified as Aung Soe, was in fact the shooter.

With the claim, Lin Zaw Tun, a Union Solidarity and Development Party MP once again inserted himself into the lengthy and as yet unresolved case. On Thursday he said he did not know the alleged gunman Kyi Lin — who was arrested near the scene of the crime on 29 January 2017 — shortly after the murder took place outside Yangon International Airport, and he pointed the finger instead at Aung Soe.

The claim is particularly surprising given CCTV footage that appears to show Kyi Lin, moments before the shooting, standing behind Ko Ni with gun in hand. Kyi Lin was arrested at the airport shortly after the murder, largely thanks to a vigilante cohort that chased him down.

No less surprising is that Lin Zaw Tun was summoned to serve as a witness in the case by the prosecution. The lawmaker did not explain the reasoning behind his claim that Aung Soe was the assassin.

Aung Soe’s name has surfaced in connection with the high-profile trial in the past, with the local news outlet Myanmar Now interviewing the man for a story published in February 2017 in which he claimed to have been a fellow inmate with Kyi Lin at Obo Prison in Mandalay several years ago.

Thursday’s testimony was just the latest twist in a case that has ensnared five men — at least two with military backgrounds — and centres on the brazen killing of Ko Ni, a respected legal mind who advised the ruling National League for Democracy.

Lin Zaw Tun was a classmate of the Defence Services Academy (DSA) graduate Aung Win Khaing, who allegedly masterminded the plot to kill Ko Ni, and the MP previously made headlines for threatening to sue those speculating that he was in some way involved in the assassination.

The lawmaker has appeared in photos widely circulated on social media last year alongside Aung Win Khaing, who is still at large. Both former military officers, the two were classmates of the DSA’s 36th Intake.

“I don’t understand why he [testified] like that,” prosecuting lawyer Khin Maung Htay said of Thursday’s court proceedings. “CCTV records and photos from Facebook showed that Kyi Lin killed U Ko Ni.”

The alleged gunman has also received a slight legal reprieve, with a decision — the date of which is unknown — that the remainder of a one-year prison sentence handed down on an immigration violation in August has been dropped.

Indicative of his new status as a mere defendant and no longer a prison time-serving convict, Kyi Lin arrived to Thursday’s hearing wearing a white shirt and without cuffs on his ankles, a contrast to the cuffed appearances in blue inmate garb that he has worn at previous court appearances, including the most recent on 9 March.

“Every prisoner has the right to get a reduced [sentence],” Kyi Lin’s lawyer Kyaw Kyaw Htike told reporters, while noting that not even he knew when the decision to curtail the sentence was made.

An information officer and deputy judge for Yangon’s Northern District Court, Ye Lwin, said: “The prison department would do the process [of a sentence reduction] in accordance with procedures. I won’t comment on that.”

Another hearing in the case at the Northern District Court is scheduled for tomorrow, when the remainder of witnesses called back by the prosecution to re-testify are due to appear.

Robert San Aung, a lawyer who is assisting with the prosecution, said the hearing after that would be “interesting” as Kyi Lin is expected to take the stand in his own defence.