Myanmar's junta Friday leveled five new corruption charges against deposed National League for Democracy party chief Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a source close to the secret court where she is being tried, bringing the total number of crimes she stands accused of to 16.
The charges, which were also brought against former President Win Myint, are related to the purchase and use of helicopters from the National Disaster Management Fund to carry out disaster prevention activities under the NLD government, the source from the court in the capital Naypyidaw told RFA's Myanmar Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Suu Kyi's legal team applied to represent her against the new charges on Friday and was told by the court that it would review the request on Jan. 21.
During Friday's hearing, the court heard the testimony of Khin Mar Cho, the auditor general of Yangon region, who was presented by junta prosecutors to speak about the corruption charges.
Earlier this week, the court sentenced Suu Kyi to four years in prison for the illegal possession of walkie-talkies and breaking COVID-19 rules, raising to six years the jail time imposed on her in closed-door proceedings.
On Dec. 6, Suu Kyi and Win Myint received two years for incitement against the military and two years for violating coronavirus restrictions, which junta chief Min Aung Hlaing reduced to two years of house arrest.
The former state counselor's lawyers have been barred since October by Myanmar's military rulers from releasing information or speaking publicly about the two cases being tried.
She has rejected all allegations, which her supporters, rights groups and foreign governments have condemned as political.
Suu Kyi and Win Myint were arrested by the military shortly after its Feb. 1, 2021, coup, which brought down the NLD government.
The junta says voter fraud led to the NLD's landslide victory in the country's November 2020 election but has yet to provide evidence for its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide protests calling for a return to civilian rule, killing 1,469 people and arresting more than 8,600 in the 11 months since, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
In addition to the 16 charges Suu Kyi faces, the junta has announced plans to sue her for allegedly fixing the ballot in the general election. If she receives the maximum punishment for each of the charges, she would have to serve more than 160 years in prison.
A pretext for removal
Observers told RFA that the new charges are part of a bid by the junta to remove Aung San Suu Kyi from the country's political arena.
Min Lwin Oo, a Norway-based human rights attorney, said a helicopter is a necessary asset for any leader who hopes to manage their country's natural disasters.
"Without that helicopter, she might need to request that the Air Force provide her with transportation," he said. "I don't think it is the good reason to file the charges against her. It's a pretext to exclude her from politics permanently."
Tint Swe, a former colleague of Suu Kyi's who took part in the country's 1990 election and now lives in the U.S., called the new charges "part of the scheme the military regime has been using to bump up sentences.
"I see these charges as a pretext by the military regime to remove her from politics and prevent her from becoming an elected official, once and for all," he said.
"Judging from their actions, we cannot trust their pledge to return to the democracy [through new elections]. I think they are increasing the charges as international pressure mounts to show that they are not bothered by it."
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the accusations formed part of a trend of "bogus charges" against Aung San Suu Kyi, "all with the intent purpose of prosecuting her and making sure that she is never free to contest the power of the military regime."
"They see it as a justification for their coup. They're using this as an example of why they had to get rid of her and so from their perspective the more charges the better," he said.
"But you know, she's already 76. If they give her 10 years or they give her 100 years of time in detention, it's still going to be the same result because she's not going to be able to be freed again and certainly not going to be able to assume her position as the elected leader of Myanmar."