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Tay Za’s wife removed from US blacklist

Family picture includes Tay Za (left) and his wife, Thidar Zaw (right).

The estranged wife of Burma’s best-known ‘crony’ Tay Za has been removed from The United States Treasury’s list of Special Designated Nationals, known commonly as the “US Blacklist”.

In a 9 July notice posted on the US Treasury website, Thidar Zaw, 51, was noted as having been removed from the blacklist that bars specific foreigners from doing business with American citizens or businesses.

Widely reputed to be one of the richest persons in the country, Tay Za remains blacklisted. A close friend of several members of the former ruling military junta, Tay Za owns the Htoo Group conglomerate, a string of luxury hotels, the airline Air Bagan and football club Yangon United. The US previously described him as “an arms dealer and financial henchman of Burma’s repressive [former] regime”.

Tay Za and Thidar Zaw separated more than 10 years ago though it is unclear whether they divorced. Thidar Zaw was removed from the blacklist on Thursday alongside deceased Soe Win, who served as prime minister for three years under the former military junta. Another deceased former junta official, Maung Bo, was also de-listed.

The US Treasury Department routinely deletes “out-of date” entries, including those who die and defunct companies, from its blacklist.

“Thidar Zaw is being removed because she no longer meets the criteria for which she was designated,” the US Treasury Department told DVB.

The US added Tay Za and Thidar Zaw to its blacklist in 2007: freezing any assets or wealth the couple might have had tied up in the US; barring them from the country; and prohibiting their related businesses from having financial ties with US companies or citizens. The couple’s son, Pye Phyo Tay Za, was also blacklisted in one fell swoop by then US President George W. Bush.

The executive order signed by Bush alleged “engagement in public corruption, including by diverting or misusing Burmese public assets or by misusing public authority, constitut[ing] an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Thidar Zaw was the heiress to Htoo Company, the forerunner to Tay Za’s Htoo Group of Companies. Htoo Group incorporates construction, property development, agriculture, transportation, shipping, mining, as well as hotels and tourism operations. The firm’s links to the ruling junta enabled the acquisition of mega-contracts, including that of the main constructor of Naypyidaw, unveiled as Burma’s new capital in 2005.

Htoo Group of Companies includes rice-export firm Ayer Shwe Wah Company Ltd, within which Aung Thet Mann serves as Director. Aung Thet Mann is the blacklisted son of current presidential hopeful Shwe Mann.

“Tay Za has used his business relationship with Aung Thet Mann to win favourable business contracts from the Burmese junta,” The US Treasury alleged in 2008.

Shwe Mann’s wife, Khin Lay Thet, was blacklisted in 2008, at a time when his position as third-ranking officer in Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s military government provided near-unmatched financial leverage within Burma.

Currently serving as the Union Parliament’s house speaker, Shwe Mann does not, however, appear on the US Treasury’s list. The now-chair of Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has visited the USA on two separate occasions since the former pariah state’s process of democratic and economic reforms began in 2011, most recently in May this year.

The senior statesmen used the trip to underscore his presidential ambitions, stating that he would be “happy to accept” a presidential nomination by his party. Shwe Mann’s ascension to Burma’s top job would mimic the rise of Thein Sein, who served as the USDP chairman before taking on the role of president in 2011.