Former PM's trial under way in Yangon
Larry Jagan in Bangkok
Observers expect Khin Nyunt to be found guilty and receive death penalty
The trial of the former prime minister Khin Nyunt has begun inside the country's notorious Insein prison in Yangon. He was arraigned on eight charges on Wednesday and was told he could appoint a defence lawyer, according to government sources.
Details of the charges against the former intelligence chief have not yet emerged but diplomats believe he probably faces allegations of corruption and insubordination.
Total secrecy and massive security surrounds the trial.
'The junta is totally tight-lipped over the whereabouts of Khin Nyunt and are desperate to keep the whole charade under wraps,' an Asian diplomat in Yangon said.
Myanmese legal experts said, however, the former government leader is almost certain to face the death penalty in a trial that is scheduled to start in earnest next Tuesday. Three Supreme Court judges are appearing in a special court set up inside Insein prison.
Khin Nyunt's two sons have already been tried in a special court in the prison. The first, Ye Naing Win, a businessman and owner of the independent internet provider Bagan Cybertech, was charged with 33 counts of economic crimes, infringements of currency exchange regulations and corruption. The second, military officer Zaw Naing Oo, has been tried on more than 10 charges.
The two are due to be sentenced today, though this is the fifth straight week the court has been scheduled to announce the verdict.
Khin Nyunt's arraignment this week makes it more likely that the sons will finally be officially found guilty and sentenced to more than four years in prison, observers said.
Earlier this week former agriculture minister Nyunt Tin and his son Thar Gyi were arrested because of the family's involvement in a foreign exchange and import licence scam which netted more than US$10 million, mainly from government ministries and economic agencies, the Myanmar Economic Bank and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited.
When Nyunt Tin was arrested, the authorities reportedly seized more than 30 unlicenced cars and a large amount of gold and jewellery. The former agriculture minister was sacked in September when Myanmar's top military ruler, senior General Than Shwe, started his move against Khin Nyunt, who was then the prime minister. Nyunt Tin was sacked for excessive corruption, according to government sources.
The agriculture minister and his family were notorious for their involvement in corruption. Last year the minister built a house in a plush area of the capital. Large amounts of gold bars, pearls and precious stones were plastered into the walls of the building, according to his neighbours.
Former home minister Tin Hlaing and the former foreign minister Win Aung were also arrested.