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A paid advertisement in the Burmese-language daily Myanmar Ahlin has exposed an apparent rift among some of the country’s leading lawyers, with accusations of embezzlement — and a claim that the Myanmar Lawyers Network (MLN) had been disbanded as a result — refuted days after it was published.
The 15 December ad in the state-run newspaper, credited to the “patrons” of the MLN, said the group had been dissolved over a number of issues including embezzlement of a US$40,000 donation from a foreign organisation by “some lawyers in the network.” It accused those same lawyers of being absent from the network’s official meetings for months and instead calling gatherings “excluding the main leadership” in an attempt to divide the group.
MLN’s now-former chairman Kyi Myint told DVB it was his decision to disband the group to “avoid complications” due to the alleged embezzlement and growing factionalism among the network’s leadership.
“Some lawyers in the organisation, without the knowledge of the executive committee, accepted a $40,000 donation under the banners ‘Upper Burma’ and ‘Lower Burma’ MLN and took it for themselves, splitting it $20,000 each. Later we found out about it and demanded an official explanation and that they return the money, and they agreed to do so,” said Kyi Myint.
“However, the individual who is claiming [leadership or representation of] the ‘Lower Burma’ MLN managed the money on his own afterward, and did not give us any explanation.”
On Saturday, however, members of the MLN called a special meeting at Royal Rose Hall in Rangoon to refute the advertisement. Aung Thein, a prominent lawyer and member of the group, said Kyi Myint’s decision did not reflect the will of the network’s core members.
“We are going to continue operations and will not be responding to [Kyi Myint]’s individual claim. As we are confident in our own actions, we will carry on with our undertakings in the network,” Aung Thein told DVB.
About 80 MLN members attended Saturday’s press conference.
“We would like the public to know that we are not going to disband just because of [Kyi Myint]’s advertisement in a newspaper,” Aung Thein added.
Regarding the alleged embezzlement, he said the matter had been cleared up with the donors of the $40,000.
“Regarding the issue of the $40,000, we have training courses in Upper Burma and Lower Burma, and the officials of the Upper Burma MLN have clarified to their donors about their proceedings with the money. We, the Lower Burma MLN, have also given explanation to our donors,” he said.