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By Nichola Groom
(Reuters) - The Myanmar-born perfume entrepreneur who was the top buyer of oil and gas leases at U.S. federal auctions last year has been sued for fraud by a Texas woman alleging she paid more than half a million dollars for "worthless" contracts.
Tha Cin, an immigrant from Burma who runs a sushi-making business in Texas, filed a lawsuit against Levi Sap Nei Thang and two of her companies in federal court in Houston last week.
Cin's dispute with Thang was first reported by Reuters last month in an examination https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-drilling-myanmar-insight/how-a-burmese-immigrant-profited-by-flipping-cheap-oil-leases-from-trump-auctions-idUSKBN2BE1C5 that revealed she was selling leases to other Burmese immigrants at inflated prices after billing them as great investments on social media.
Critics of the federal government's leasing program say low minimum bids make it easy for speculators to secure acreage at deflated values, then resell at a profit. The program generates public revenue from development on federal lands, and is currently under review by the Biden administration.
According to court documents seen by Reuters on Friday, Cin alleged that Thang represented herself as an experienced oil and gas developer who promised to assist her with drilling wells on two leases in New Mexico. In return, Cin paid Thang $510,000 -- her life savings -- but later found out they had cost Thang just $200,000.
The lawsuit alleges that no sale agreements were ever executed between Cin and Thang, and that one of the leases was sold to Cin months before federal officials formally issued it to Thang. It also alleges that Thang used Cin's payments as "seed money" to fund her lease-buying spree. She spent about $3.7 million on nearly 300 government leases in 12 states in the second half of 2020 and early 2021.
Thang's attorney was not immediately available for comment.
Cin is seeking the return of her $510,000 in payments to Thang as well as $1.275 million in exemplary damages.
(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by David Gregorio)