In the first of multiple corruption charges against her, a Myanmar court convicted former leader Aung San Suu Kyi of corruption and sentenced her to five years in jail on Wednesday.
Suu Kyi, who was deposed by an army coup last year, has denied receiving gold and hundreds of thousands of dollars as a bribe from a prominent political ally.
Suu Kyi’s allies and independent legal experts believe her prosecution is an unfair attempt to defame her and justify the military’s takeover of power while preventing the 76-year-old elected leader from returning to politics.
In other cases, she has already been sentenced to six years in jail, and she now faces ten additional corruption counts. The Anti-Corruption Act has a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail and a fine. If convicted in the other instances, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who has already spent years in custody for rejecting military authority may face a cumulative term of more than 100 years in prison.
The decision was announced on Wednesday by a legal officer who begged not to be identified because he is not permitted to do so. The trial of Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital, Naypyitaw, was closed to the journalists, diplomats, and spectators, and her attorneys were forbidden from speaking to the press.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a resounding win in the 2020 general election, but MPs were not permitted to assume their seats until the army took control on Feb. 1, 2021, detaining Suu Kyi and many of her party’s and government’s key officials. Although the army claimed it intervened because of widespread vote fraud, impartial election monitors found no significant abnormalities.
According to a watchdog group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the takeover was met with widespread peaceful protests, which security forces quelled with brutal force, resulting in the deaths of almost 1,800 citizens.
Armed resistance to the military administration rose as persecution increased, and some United Nations experts now describe the nation as being in a state of civil war.
Since her detention, Suu Kyi has not been seen or permitted to speak in public, and she is being imprisoned at an undisclosed location. According to a legal person acquainted with the proceedings who asked not to be identified because he is not permitted to divulge information, she looked to be in excellent condition during last week’s final hearing in the case and begged her supporters to “remain united.”
Suu Kyi had already been sentenced to six years in jail for unlawfully importing and possessing walkie-talkies, as well as breaking coronavirus prohibitions and sedition.
She was accused of collecting $600,000 and seven gold bars from Phyo Min Thein, the former chief minister of Yangon, the country’s largest city, and a prominent member of her political party, in the case determined Wednesday. Her attorneys said she dismissed all of his evidence against her as “absurd” before they were slapped with gag orders late last year.
Several instances linked to the purchase and renting of a helicopter by one of her former Cabinet ministers are among the nine other cases now being prosecuted under the Anti-Corruption Act. Violations of the statute can result in a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail and a fine for each violation.
Suu Kyi is also accused of manipulating her position to get rental properties at below-market costs for a foundation named after her mother, and of diverting money intended for charity gifts to build a house. Several of her alleged activities, according to the state Anti-Corruption Commission, cost the state money it would have gained otherwise.
Another corruption accusation against her has yet to go to trial, alleging that she took a bribe.
Suu Kyi is also facing charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act, which has a potential punishment of 14 years in prison, and of election fraud, which brings a maximum term of three years in prison.