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Burmese merchants who import Chinese goods through the border checkpoint at Muse in northern Shan state are claiming that a Burmese “hundi” operator stole nearly half a billion kyat (US$5 million) from them.
Hundi is the Burmese equivalent of a money transfer office set up in most neighboring countries which migrants frequently use to send money home to their families or vice versa or to import and export goods.
Nineteen individual merchants from Rangoon, Mandalay and Muse said that earlier this month they collectively paid the Shwe Zarmani Hundi Service office in Rangoon and Mandalay a total of almost 500 million kyat which was to be transferred to the Sino-Burmese border town to buy goods. However, the money never made it to Muse, they claim.
Ye Linn, a garment trader from Rangoon, said he had been using the Shwe Zarmani service for about two years and had trusted them.
“Usually we’d pick up the money in Muse or sometimes the operator would transfer it directly to Ruili,” he said. “We already paid them the service charges. We’ve been using their service for about two years so we trusted them and began transferring large amounts of money. Now they’ve made off it with it.
“I have all the records – we had 480 million kyat in total stolen,” he said.
Myo Nyunt, a furniture shop owner from Muse, told DVB that he personally had about 90 million kyat ($90,000) stolen.
“This money is important – without it, we cannot operate – we earned that money through honest work,” he said.
He expressed suspicion on a woman at the Shwe Zarmani office named May Hnin Kyi who denied all knowledge of the theft.
“I’m disappointed that May Hnin Kyi is denying responsibility, saying she is only a lower-ranking staffer, and seeking assistance from the police,” he said.
When contacted by DVB, May Hnin Kyi maintained that she had nothing to do with the case, asserting that Shwe Zarmani has closed operations because its owner Cho Cho Aye had disappeared.
“I’m just a staffer here and only deal with transactions. The monthly records were directly handled by Ms Cho Cho Aye. We can no longer continue this operation since she left,” said May Hnin Kyi.
Nang Eun San Hwang, a Shwe Zarmani staff member in Rangoon, also denied responsibility.
“I just transferred the money as I was told to,” she said. “I can show you all the records – I didn’t steal a penny.”
The merchants said they attempted to file a case against the hundi operator with the Muse police but were told to file it with the Rangoon authorities as the original payments were made elsewhere.
Meanwhile, an official at Muse Police Station said no trader had come forward to file a case with them.
Trader Ye Linn blamed the slow money transfer process at domestic banks for the need to hire hundi services to conduct business.
“The banks are rather slow and are often unable to transfer the amount of money we wish,” he said. “Mostly we have not much choice but to work with the hundi operators as there is no convenient process to buy Chinese currency through the official banks.”