As the chief of ordnance production within Burma’s armed forces, Lt-Gen Tin Aye was personally responsible for the recent purchase of 20 MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia at a cost of 400 million euros (US $575 million).
No stranger to handling money, he also stands accused of filtering millions of dollars in gas and oil revenues from state coffers. He and junta strongman Snr-Gen Than Shwe are reportedly the only two persons who have access to the funds.
Brought through the ranks by Than Shwe, and regarded as one of the richest men in the country, Tin Aye was thrust into the spotlight in September when he represented the junta at a North Korean anniversary party in Rangoon.
Ranked No 5 in the Tatmadaw (Burmese armed forces) hierarchy by state-run media, he has become a noticeable part of Than Shwe’s entourage at official events and graduation ceremonies at Burmese military academies alongside junta No 3 Gen Shwe Mann and No 4 Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo,who is quartermaster-general of the armed forces.
When Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visited Burma on Dec. 19-20, Tin Aye joined No 2 Deputy Snr-Gen Maung Aye’s welcoming committee at Naypyidaw Airport, and was involved in bilateral meetings and luncheons with the Chinese delegation.
A graduate of Defense Service Academy-9, 64-year-old Tin Aye has made official visits to various countries, including China, North Korea, Russia and Ukraine, to buy arms and military equipment. He reportedly traveled to North Korea with Shwe Mann in April.
Tin Aye also chairs the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), often regarded as the armed forces’ business arm in handling trade.
Tin Aye’s relationship with the junta chief started when he was under Than Shwe’s command at the 88th Light Infantry Division, before being made Than Shwe’s personal assistant.
Aung Lin Htut, a former spy officer, wrote in April that two military-run business enterprises, UMEHL and the Myanmar Economy Corporation, are headed by Tin Aye and Tin Aung Myint Oo.
While UMEHL manages all the government ministries dealing in trade and business––the ministries of trade, mines, forestry, energy, livestock, fisheries, agriculture, electrical power, Industry 1 and Industry 2––the MEC runs military-owned factories and enterprises.
“Therefore Than Shwe can spend [unlimited] money without auditing,” Aung Lin Htut wrote.
Like other families of the ruling generals, Tin Aye’s family also has its hands in several business ventures. His son, Zaw Min Aye, manages an import-export firm, including a concession for importing motor vehicles, as well as IT and media businesses.
Zaw Min Aye’s Pyae Swan Yee Co. is one of richest firms in the country. The company is reportedly involved in business services, electronic components and supplies, printing and publishing. He is also the owner of the Rangoon-based Ecovision weekly.
Pyae Swan Yee is not currently blacklisted with Western sanctions, although Tin Aye, his wife Kyi Kyi Ohn and Zaw Min Aye are on the list.