Myanmar’s Kayin State Gambling Project Leads to Sanctions Against Officials

Posted on: December 11, 2023, 08:36h. 

Last updated on: December 12, 2023, 01:35h.

Myanmar is in the middle of an unofficial civil war that has at its roots, in part, an attempt to rid the country of its gambling element. The US, the UK and other countries are making a statement about the ongoing conflict, introducing sanctions against two high-ranking officials in the country who also have ties to a major gambling operation.

Colonel Saw Chit Thu with his entourage traveling through Kayin
Colonel Saw Chit Thu, with his entourage, traveling through Kayin. The leader of Myanmar’s Border Guard Force faces new sanctions for his ties to illegal gambling. (Image: Frontier Myanmar)

Colonel Saw Chit Thu, a leader with the Burmese junta-tied Border Guard Force (BGF), alongside two other individuals, incurred sanctions from the UK last Friday. The other two are Chinese investor She Zhijiang and Colonel Saw Min Min Oo, a primary leader under Saw Chit Thu.

The sanctions link back to their alleged involvement in the recently established Shwe Kokko town in Kayin (previously Karen) State. This decision comes as a response to the severe accusations related to human trafficking, forced labor and infringements on human rights against the two.

Cracking Down on Fraud Farms

On Friday, the UK unveiled the joint sanctions against Saw Chit Thu and the others. These restrictions were implemented in response to the exposure of nine individuals and five companies involved in internet-based “fraud farms” located in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. It has been widely documented that the workers of those operations are victims of human trafficking.

The sanctions include an asset freeze that prevents anyone from the participating country from dealing with the economic or financial resources of the sanctioned individual(s). In this case, it also comes with a travel ban that prevents the sanctioned individuals from traveling to or through the participating countries.

An official statement from the UK explained that Saw Chit Thu and the other two had been implicated as accomplices or beneficiaries of human trafficking in the operations of Shwe Kokko. The trio, with assistance from others, forced their victims into slave labor and allegedly subjected them routinely to torture, physical abuse and various forms of exploitation.

The United Nations has estimated that as many as 120,000 individuals in Myanmar face similar conditions of forced labor. At least another 100,000 in Cambodia are also victims of human trafficking.

Shwe Kokko Survives Attempts to Shut it Down

The Shwe Kokko Project is a collaboration between Chit Lin Myaing Co and Yatai International Holding Group, a company registered in Hong Kong. Chit Lin Myaing Co allegedly belongs to the BGF, with Saw Chit Thu serving as its highest-ranking executive.

Saw Chit Thu and his border guards significantly benefit from the operation, which has gained a notorious reputation in Southeast Asia due to its connections with Chinese criminals. Apart from its involvement in human trafficking, labor exploitation, online fraud and gambling, the operation presents itself as a major revenue stream for the BGF officer.

Last year, Thai police arrested She Zhijiang in Bangkok. His apprehension was triggered by a foreign warrant accusing him of managing an internet-based casino.

On top of his involvement with Shwe Kokko, he allegedly has deep involvement in several controversial ventures in other countries, as well as in Cambodia’s gambling industry. Despite the arrest, Shwe Kokko remains operational, as highlighted by previous comments by the BGF.