by Alessandro De Pascale (from Bangkok)

Opposition to the Burmese military junta, which has ruled Myanmar for just over three years, is reaching into Rome’s institutional buildings. Justice For Myanmar, a human rights organisation, has sent a letter to the Italian Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Economy and the Guardia di Finanza (Italy’s law enforcement agency specialising in economic crimes) to report on the case of Htoo Htwe Tay Za, also known as Rachel Tayza. According to the letter we have seen, the Paris-based law firm Bourdon & Associés has asked Italy to “investigate and identify Rachel Tayza’s assets and economic resources (…) freeze” her wealth in Italy and, most importantly, “expel her from Italian territory”. All this is based on the European Union’s sanctions against the ruling Burmese military junta. The NGO Italy-Burma Together has also taken action, asking the Sanctions and Asia Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for clarification. The response received indicates that the Ministry’s offices are currently “studying” the case.

U Tay Za, Rachel’s father, is the founder and chairman of the Htoo Group of Companies, a conglomerate that has been sanctioned by both the EU and the US for its role as “a major business partner of the Burmese military”. The family’s business empire, which holds “stakes in more than 60 companies in Myanmar and Singapore”, has been implicated in enabling the military to commit serious human rights abuses, repress the population and engage in activities detrimental to democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar, according to Justice for Myanmar. The Htoo Group’s extensive involvement spans key sectors of the Burmese economy, including mining, forestry, logging, timber sales, oil, construction, manufacturing, food and beverages, property development, agriculture, transport, banking and finance, insurance, aviation, hotels and tourism. These activities ultimately contribute, to varying degrees, to the financing of the regime.

Rachel Tayza herself “holds positions as director and shareholder” in various companies within the Htoo Group, which was set up after the military coup in 2021, a period during which she was already in Italy, reportedly on a medical visa. Her social media and the Italian fashion blog Colory suggest that Rachel is currently based in Milan. According to her LinkedIn profile, she “graduated in 2022 from Polimoda,” a prestigious fashion institute in Florence that is ranked among the top ten in the world. She went on to show one of her collections at Pitti Uomo and attended Milan Fashion Week in 2023.

The Justice for Myanmar lawyer’s concerns relate to the fact that “Rachel Tayza’s studies and living expenses in Italy were supported by funds from the Htoo Group through transfers to her account at the Italian Banca Nazionale del Lavoro Spa, a branch of the French BNP Paribas”. These assets and economic resources are tainted with Burmese blood.

In a follow-up letter to the bank concerned, Bourdon & Associés explicitly requests the disclosure of Rachel Tayza’s assets to the relevant authorities. The request is made following European sanctions against “natural or legal persons, entities or bodies whose policies, actions or activities undermine democracy or the rule of law in Myanmar/Burma”. The letter also cites Italian Legislative Decree 109/2007, which establishes the framework for the implementation of UN and EU financial sanctions related to the financing of terrorism and activities that constitute a threat to international peace and security.

The Htoo Group of Companies is included in the European Union’s list of persons, entities and bodies subject to sanctions. This designation is based on its status as “a private conglomerate founded and chaired by U Tay Za, who is closely linked to the senior leadership of the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw)”. The Htoo Group of Companies, along with Tay Za and his daughter Htoo Htwe Tay Za (currently residing in Italy), have all been added to sanctions lists, resulting in the freezing of assets linked to the situation in Burma. These sanctions have been enforced by the United States, and similar measures have been adopted by Canada and the United Kingdom.

On the cover photo, the Farnesina, seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Italian Government ©FabioMitidieri/