* 50 officials involved in rare probe at ministry - sources
* Probe follows president's vow to fight graft
* Reforms in telecoms sector long delayed
(Recasts, new details throughout)
By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON, Jan 24 Myanmar's former
telecommunications minister and dozens of officials are under
investigation for graft, a senior government official said on
Thursday, in a landmark probe in the fast reforming country long
ranked among the world's most corrupt.
The investigation by the Home Ministry and auditor general
covers about 50 individuals and civil servants connected to the
telecommunications ministry and comes a month after reformist
President Thein Sein vowed to clean up a bureaucracy mired in
corruption and inefficiency.
A senior government official, who asked not to be
identified, told Reuters that current and former ministry staff
were being questioned "in connection with malpractice in the
nationwide telecommunications network".
One of those under investigation was former
telecommunications minister, Thein Tun, who stepped down this
month for unexplained reasons.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut confirmed that an
investigation was underway, but would not comment further.
Investigations into corruption are almost unheard of in
Myanmar, which ended 49 years of military rule in March 2011.
Since then, a reformist government has freed hundreds of
political prisoners, eased censorship controls and held free
elections. Its rewards include a suspension in Western sanctions
but its reputation for graft has lingered.
Thein Sein, a former general, announced this month the
creation of an anti-corruption committee.
The probe comes as Myanmar begins to liberalise one of the
world's most underdeveloped telecoms sectors to attract foreign
firms in the greenfield market of 60 million people.
The government source said the Home Ministry was questioning
eight people, including the general manager and deputy chief
engineer. Other cases were being handled by the
It is unclear whether the investigation would accelerate
telecoms sector reforms. Myanmar's mobile phone SIM cards are
among the world's most expensive, costing around $250, compared
to about $1.50 in neighbouring countries.
A new telecoms law is working its way through parliament and
the government has invited expressions of interest from
companies for two new licences.
The telecoms ministry, which runs the country's only
operator, Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT), has been
criticised for delays in the drafting and implementation of new
laws and regulations to expand and liberalise the sector.
It flummoxed potential investors in April 2011 when it
announced plans to create 30 million GSM lines by 2016 even
before a draft telecommunications law was completed.
International investors have also expressed unease over the
ministry's opaque agreements with 23 companies to build
communications towers and distribute SIM cards.
Sources reached by Reuters were able to confirm a report by
U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia that the ex-telecoms minister, Thein
Tun, was under house arrest.
Investors regard developments in Myanmar's telecoms sector
as a litmus test for transparency and regulation.
Operators that have confirmed interest in Myanmar include
Sweden's TeliaSonera AB, Malaysia's Axiata,
Norway's Telenor and Digicel.
(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by