YANGON — A second suspect has been arrested in connection with the high-profile assassination of Ko Ni, a top legal advisor for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Myanmar’s President Office announced Friday night.
The man, named Aung Win Zaw, 46, is accused of being an accomplice of arrested assassin Kyi Lin, who shot Ko Ni dead at a close range with a pistol in the compound of Yangon International Airport on Sunday evening.
Police apprehended Aung Win Zaw on a bridge over the Thanlwin River in Kayin State at 4:20 AM on Monday, but his arrest had not been announced until now. Police arrested Kyi Lin, 53, outside the airport compound within minutes after the killing.
Police officers and a former fellow prisoner have told Myanmar Now that two suspects had committed crimes together in the past and served lengthy prison sentences in Obo Prison in Mandalay for smuggling Buddha statues to neighbouring countries. They were released in a presidential amnesty in 2014, the sources said. Kyi Lin also served an earlier sentence for the same crime in the late 1980s.
Aung Soe, 51, a former fellow inmate at Obo Prison, had told a Myanmar Now reporter on Monday evening – a day after the killing – that he recognised Kyi Lin from pictures of the murder scene.
Aung Soe also told Myanmar Now on Monday that Aung Win Zaw was likely the man who assigned the killing, adding that he was approached by the second suspect in June last year for an assassination assignment.
Aung Soe claimed he was told to “kill a diplomat of a foreign religion in broad day light in downtown Yangon, if successful this will be good for the country, our race and religion.” He said he declined an offer of around US$100,000, weapons training, and an arrangement for a hiding place on the Myanmar-Thai border.
An uncle of Aung Win Zaw in Yangon confirmed with Myanmar Now that the second arrested man was his nephew, based on a photo that was released by authorities on Friday night. He declined to comment on the case, however.
The former cellmate said he knew Aung Win Zaw from Obo Prison, adding that he was a former military lieutenant who had first been jailed in the 1990s for disciplinary charges.
Aung Win Zaw allegedly told his former cellmate last year that he was able to offer such money and means for the assignment as a group of powerful people had supported him after his prison release so he could carry out clandestine activities for them.
“Both Aung Win Zaw and Kyi Lin are the kind of individuals who would do anything for money and the two are very close,” Aung Soe said, adding that the assassin had shown a calm and reserved demeanour in prison, while the second suspect was more outgoing and boastful.
Police have so far not announced a motive for assassination, although it is widely regarded as a political assassination given the fact that Ko Ni, 65, was a prominent legal advisor on constitutional issues for the NLD party’s leadership including Aung San Suu Kyi, the state’s counsellor who is the de facto government leader.
The President’s Office announced in a statement on January 30 that the murder of Ko Ni was intended to destabilise the country. Ko Ni was also a Muslim and Myanmar has seen inter-religious tensions in recent years.
On Thursday, Yangon Region Police Chief Brigadier-General Win Naing told Myanmar Now that National Police headquarters had taken control of the investigation. Win Naing did not reveal police had already arrested a second suspect at the time.
Asked about Aung Win Zaw and Kyi Lin’s involvement and motivation, he said, “They probably did this just for money,” without elaborating who might have masterminded the killing.
The police have come under growing public pressure for the lack of information on the investigation’s progress, sparking lively debates on social media on possible conspiracies behind the killing. The police remain under direct command of Myanmar’s military and have little trust among the public.
On Tuesday, a police document reportedly leaked via a messaging app appeared to be part of the accused murder’s interrogation transcript, in which he said he was offered a car for the murder.