BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s Supreme Court heard final arguments on Monday in a long-running, bitter dispute between the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her estranged elder brother over the property where she was held under house arrest for 15 years.
The court in the capital, Naypyitaw, agreed last October to hear a special appeal from Suu Kyi’s brother, Aung San Oo, on how to divide the family property the siblings inherited in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, his lawyer said.
The lawyer, Aye Lwin, said a special bench of the Supreme Court could reach a decision within three months and it would be final.
Suu Kyi. 77, whose elected government was ousted in an army takeover last year, already faces a slew of legal cases brought by the military. The court system has been criticized by rights groups for being under the military's influence. The military's seizure of power triggered widespread peaceful protests that turned into armed resistance, and the country has slipped into what some U.N. experts characterize as a civil war.
The ruling military council is generally believed to have brought those cases in an attempt to justify its takeover and prevent Suu Kyi’s return to active politics. She has already been convicted of several offenses and was transferred last week to a custom-built facility at a prison in Naypyitaw.
Aung San Oo first sued in 2000 for a share of the 2-acre (0.8- hectare) family property on Inye Lake with a two-story colonial-style building. It had been given by the government to Suu Kyi’s mother, Khin Kyi, after her husband, independence hero Gen. Aung San, was assassinated in July 1947.
Khin Kyi died in December 1988, shortly after the failure of a mass uprising against military rule in which Suu Kyi took a leadership role.
Suu Kyi helped found the National League for Democracy party but was detained in 1989 ahead of a 1990 election. Her party easily won but was not allowed to take power when the army annulled the results.
She ended up spending almost 15 years under house arrest at the property at 54 University Avenue and stayed there after her 2010 release until moving in 2012 to spend much of her time in Naypyitaw to serve in Parliament. She became the nation’s leader after the 2015 general election.
For most of her time in detention, Suu Kyi was alone at the Yangon house with just a housekeeper and at one point had to sell some of her furniture to afford food.
Later the property became a cross between a political shrine and an unofficial party headquarters when Suu Kyi was allowed a modicum of freedom. She was able to deliver speeches from her front gate to crowds of supporters gathered in the street outside.
In later years she hosted visiting dignitaries including then-U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Aung San Oo’s lawyer, Aye Lwin, said the crux of the dispute is how to divide the inherited property, which he said is worth $90 million, a figure that could not immediately be confirmed.
Lawyers for Suu Kyi could not be contacted for comment.
Aung San Oo, an engineer, had resided in the United States for several decades when he first brought suit against his sister in 2000.
That case seeking an equal partition of the property was dismissed in January 2001 on procedural grounds but Aung San Oo returned to court again and again over the following two decades to press his claims.
There was widespread speculation that the military, which has constantly harassed Suu Kyi, has encouraged his lawsuits.
A 2016 ruling by the Western Yangon District Court divided the property between the siblings. But Aung San Oo considered the decision unfair and appealed unsuccessfully multiple times for the court to have the property sold and the proceeds split between him and his sister. Only last year did the Supreme Court agree to allow him a special appeal.
Aye Lwin, his lawyer, told The Associated Press that lawyers from both sides filed final arguments in court on Monday but he declined to reveal details.
“The special appeal is just about how to divide the inheritance,” he said.