Malaysia police quiz ex-premier Mahathir

Dr Mahathir Mohamad leaving his office yesterday with his son Mokhzani Mahathir. No sitting or previous Malaysian prime minister has ever been questioned by the police.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad leaving his office yesterday with his son Mokhzani Mahathir. No sitting or previous Malaysian prime minister has ever been questioned by the police.PHOTO: SIN CHEW DAILY

He faces questioning in probe into potential defamation for his remarks about PM Najib

Police investigating former premier Mahathir Mohamad for potential criminal defamation questioned him yesterday over allegations he made against Prime Minister Najib Razak.

No sitting or previous Malaysian prime minister has ever been questioned by the police.

At a rally in August held by electoral reform group Bersih, Tun Dr Mahathir accused Datuk Seri Najib of bribing ruling Umno officials to stay in power. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and police chief Khalid Abu Bakar then said claims made by Dr Mahathir and others would be investigated.

Three police officers from the special Classified Cases Unit spent about 45 minutes inside an office in an Islamic centre to record his statement.

"They asked questions and I said I will not answer. I didn't say anything," Dr Mahathir told reporters as he left in a car following the police officers' visit.

Asked if he was told he may be arrested, he said: "It's up to them."

Dr Mahathir's lawyers did not reveal what offence was being investigated or what statements he was quizzed on. Mr Haniff Khatri Abdulla, who heads the seven-man legal team, would say only that the 90-year-old was asked about statements he made on "not only one occasion but (a) few occasions".

"Sometimes we as lawyers wonder also why police come and take statements. If there is evidence, just arrest and charge."

After Mr Zahid confirmed on Oct 22 that three cases had been opened against Dr Mahathir, Tan Sri Khalid said one was for criminal defamation under Section 500 of the Penal Code. This related to the claim that senior Umno leaders were bribed to support the Prime Minister.

Dr Mahathir made the allegation at the Bersih rally that drew tens of thousands demanding Mr Najib's resignation over alleged financial misconduct.

He has, for months, attacked the embattled Prime Minister over debt-laden state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), whose advisory board is headed by Mr Najib.

Other critics of 1MDB also faced criminal investigation, such as former Umno branch chief Khairuddin Abu Hassan and his lawyer Matthias Chang. Both men have been charged with attempting to sabotage Malaysia's financial system over their efforts to get foreign authorities to launch investigations into the state investor.

1MDB has struggled to meet obligations due to the RM42 billion (S$13.7 billion) it borrowed in just five years up to March last year. Mr Najib has had to deny using public funds for personal gain after reports surfaced in July that US$700 million (S$985 million) was deposited in his personal bank accounts via companies linked to 1MDB. The government and anti-graft agency have called the money "political donations" from unnamed Middle Eastern donors.

The government has said it will answer questions concerning the money in Parliament on Dec 3, the last day of the current parliamentary session.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'Malaysia police quiz ex-premier Mahathir'. Print Edition | Subscribe