Myanmar suspects Soros-linked foundation helped coup opponents

Authoritarian governments regularly attack Mr Soros and his organisation for its work. PHOTO: GEORGESOROS/INSTAGRAM

MYANMAR (REUTERS) - The Myanmar authorities have detained an official from a foundation linked to billionaire philanthropist George Soros and are looking for 11 other employees on suspicion that the group passed funds to opponents of a Feb 1 coup, state media said.

Opponents of military rule launched a civil disobedience movement (CDM) of strikes to press the generals to reverse their coup, free detained government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and recognise her party's Nov 8 election victory. The military has responded with a crackdown on pro-democracy protests, killing more than 180 people over weeks, a human rights group said, while taking legal action against Ms Suu Kyi and others.

The Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, which has been for years a mouthpiece of the military, said the Open Society Myanmar (OSM) organisation transferred funds without seeking permission from the Foreign Exchange Management Department. The group then exchanged US$1.4 million (S$1.89 million) into Myanmar's kyat currency "without following the necessary rules and regulations", the paper said.

It then suggested that unidentified non-governmental organisations were "providing cash assistance to CDM movements". The paper said OSM finance officer Phyu Pa Pa Thaw had been interrogated since last Friday (March 12) about "that cash flow into the CDM movement".

The authorities were looking for 11 other OSM employees to interrogate them, it added.

On its website, Open Society Foundations says it is the world's largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance and human rights. It provides grants through a network of national and regional foundations and offices, funding an array of projects. It says the Myanmar foundation supports "civil society and groups representing marginalised people to encourage a representative democracy to take root".

Authoritarian governments regularly attack Mr Soros and his organisation for its work, and he has been the target of conspiracy theories and social media misinformation for years.

The newspaper published a picture of Ms Suu Kyi meeting Mr Soros in 2016 in New York and of her meeting his son, Mr Alexander Soros, in Myanmar, but it did not link Ms Suu Kyi or Open Society Foundations to any alleged irregular transfer of funds.

Open Society Foundations did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.