GEORGE TOWN • Malaysian Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng was acquitted of corruption charges yesterday, in a decision that the country's anti-graft agency surprisingly said had left it shocked.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad responded sarcastically that while he too was "shocked" by the decision, he had to "accept" decisions made by Malaysian courts.
The verdict means that Mr Lim, Malaysia's first ethnic Chinese finance minister in 44 years, will continue to hold that post.
But the strong reaction from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) hints at divisions within the Mahathir administration, even though it had replaced the former anti-graft head, Tan Sri Dzulkifli Ahmad, with its own nominee, Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull, soon after it took charge.
Yesterday, the Penang High Court acquitted Mr Lim of two charges - that he used his former position as chief minister of Penang to approve the conversion of land, and that he gained gratification for himself by buying a bungalow below market value, reported news site Malaysiakini.com.
Mr Lim, who is part of the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration, had pleaded not guilty to the charges in 2016, when PH formed the opposition.
His acquittal comes after his lawyers filed representations to the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) for the case to be dropped after PH was elected to power in May, arguing that the charges against Mr Lim were politically motivated.
Businesswoman Phang Li Koon, who sold the bungalow to Mr Lim, was also acquitted of the corruption charge against her.
The MACC said it was shocked that the Attorney-General withdrew the case against the minister.
"The MACC is shocked by the decision by the Penang High Court in acquitting the former chief minister... after the prosecution retracted the case. The MACC would like to stress that the decision (to retract the case) was made by the Attorney-General's Office and not the MACC," the agency said yesterday in a surprisingly strong response.
Sources told Malaysiakini that the MACC top management was not even consulted before the charges were withdrawn.
The prosecution had initially asked for a discharge not amounting to an acquittal, but the judge ordered a full acquittal instead.
Speaking to reporters later, Mr Lim thanked his lawyers, family, friends and supporters for placing their utmost trust in him.
"I am definitely grateful that justice has prevailed at the end with our acquittal," Mr Lim said, maintaining that the charges against him were defamatory.
Asked about the MACC's reaction, Tun Dr Mahathir said: "If they want to be shocked, they can be shocked. I am also shocked.
"If the court makes a decision which to me is wrong, I also never comment on it. This decision is made by the court, so we have to accept it."
Mr Ramkarpal Singh, Mr Lim's counsel, asked how the MACC could be shocked by the decision when one of its senior officers was in court to withdraw the charges.
"It is ridiculous for the MACC to claim ignorance of today's development," Mr Ramkarpal said, according to the Free Malaysia Today news site. "The director of its own legal and prosecution division, Mohd Masri Daud, (had) informed the court that he was withdrawing the charges."
However, one officer told Malaysiakini that Mr Masri was not an MACC official but a deputy public prosecutor who represented the AGC.