Malaysia's anti-corruption commission yesterday jolted the country by making a rare arrest of a sitting chief minister on graft charges.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, a leading opposition figure, was flanked by about a dozen Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officials and plainclothes policemen as he was escorted out of his office, with dozens of journalists swarming the place.
The arrest followed three months of accusations by Umno leaders that Mr Lim had benefited in buying his bungalow on Penang island from businesswoman Phang Li Koon, and that she was allegedly involved in business deals with the state government that he leads.
Mr Lim has vehemently denied the accusations.
Mr Lim, the son of veteran politician Lim Kit Siang, is a powerful figure in the opposition.
The 55-year-old is secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the most popular ethnic Chinese party in Malaysia. The DAP won 38 seats in the federal Parliament in the 2013 General Election, forming the second-largest single bloc of MPs after Umno's 88 seats.
Mr Lim, who was jailed in 1998 for 12 months on sedition charges, was yesterday taken to the MACC office in Penang for an arrest warrant to be issued to him. Ms Phang was also arrested in Penang yesterday.
Both are to be charged in the Sessions Court in Penang this morning.
A message was posted on Mr Lim's official Facebook page, saying: "We call upon all Malaysians who stand for truth and justice to be there in solidarity with the Penang Chief Minister and to protest the persecution of a leader who has been chosen by the people democratically."
A DAP official told reporters that one charge is related to the sale of a two-storey house to Mr Lim last year. The bungalow was sold to him for RM2.8 million (S$940,000), compared with its alleged market price of about RM6 million.
The second charge, said the DAP official, is related to a proposal to approve an application by a company, Magnificent Emblem, to convert a piece of agriculture land in Penang to residential land. The move would have dramatically raised the land's value.
Ms Phang is a director of Magnificent Emblem, according to The Malay Mail Online website.
The government's move to arrest Mr Lim comes after a rebound in the political fortunes of Prime Minister Najib Razak, with an expectation that a general election, due in 2018, will be held next year.
The last time a sitting chief minister was charged in court was in 1997. This was when Selangor chief minister Muhammad Muhammad Taib was charged in a Brisbane court for allegedly trying to take out cash amounting to RM3.8 million without declaring it. He quit his post, and was later cleared of the charge.
Three other former chief ministers had been charged with various offences since the 1970s, but all had stepped down from their posts before being dragged to court.
DAP leaders and members, along with several opposition chiefs, gathered at the MACC office in Penang yesterday evening to hold a candlelight vigil, with shouts of "free Guan Eng" and "long live Guan Eng".