Ex-Sabah chief minister acquitted after all 46 graft and money laundering charges dropped

Mr Musa's full discharge meant that he cannot be prosecuted for the same alleged offences. PHOTO: THE STAR

KUALA LUMPUR - The former Umno chief minister in Sabah, Musa Aman, has been acquitted of all charges of corruption and money laundering related to timber concessions in the north-eastern Borneo state.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Azhar Abdul Hamid on Tuesday (June 9) told the court that the prosecution would withdraw all 46 charges against Tan Sri Musa.

His lawyer, Francis Ng, then asked for a full acquittal, which was granted by High Court Justice Muhammad Jamil Hussin.

"The application to strike out the prosecution was filed early this year and was done in a meticulous manner and supported with statements and documents as clear and undeniable evidence," Tan Sri Musa said in a statement on Tuesday.

"What had happened to my family and I, even though it happened due to political differences, I take it as a test from God."

Mr Musa was first charged in November 2018, with 35 counts under the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009 for allegedly receiving US$63 million (S$87.6 million) in Hong Kong and Singapore in exchange for offering timber concessions in Sabah.

In March 2019, he faced another 16 charges of money laundering involving US$40.3 million.

In October 2019, the prosecution dropped five charges of graft and made amendments to the existing 30 charges, relating to the dates, transactions and names of contractors.

Mr Musa's lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad said that the funds related to the charges were political donations for Umno and the Barisan Nasional coalition.

"Regarding the funds that were the subject of the prosecution, these funds were actually already explained during past investigations, where they were political donations given by party supporters, donors, the public and Barisan Nasional/Umno headquarters for use in preparations for by-elections and general elections, activities and expenditure of Barisan Nasional/Umno Sabah.

"All relevant and related documents had been supplied to the MACC," Mr Amer Hamzah said in a statement.

Mr Amer Hamzah said that the charges were also based on "malicious prosecution" and "political persecution" against his client who was charged with corruption in November 2018 just two days before an expected court decision on a dispute over the Sabah chief minister's post.

Mr Amer Hamzah noted that Mr Musa was appointed as Sabah chief minister following the results of the general election in May 2018, but said the Sabah governor later appointed another candidate to replace him.

Attorney General Idrus Harun cited a lack of evidence for the turn of events.

"Documentary evidence from companies and banks which were expected could not be obtained...from Hong Kong," he said.

In addition, there were witnesses for the prosecution who had died, suffered serious medical ailments, or were not in Malaysia anymore, he said.

Mr Musa's full discharge meant that he cannot be prosecuted for the same alleged offences, said lawyer Syahredzan Johan, who is also political secretary to opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) stalwart Lim Kit Siang.

"Yes, (Musa) cannot be charged again. Not even with new evidence," Mr Syahredzan said in reply to a question on Twitter.

This is the second high-profile discharge linked to the previous Barisan Nasional administration since the new Perikatan Nasional government took over from Pakatan Harapan (PH) in March.

Last month, money laundering charges against the stepson of former premier Najib Razak, Riza Aziz, were dropped. The charges stemmed from US$248 million related to state fund 1MDB.

Meanwhile, a Sabah minister from the Warisan party, whose leader is Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, has been called in for questioning by the anti-graft agency, MACC, over a 2014 land deal.

Warisan youth chief Azis Jamman was quoted as saying he found it "personally strange" that state Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Peter Anthony was called in for questioning on the day Mr Musa was acquitted.

PH issued a statement on Tuesday calling the decision to drop the charges against Mr Musa "extremely confusing and disappointing."

The moves come amid talk of the PN government led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin attempting to flip the Warisan-led government in Sabah. Umno has been pressuring the government for posts at the federal level since Mr Muhyiddin became Prime Minister, and will benefit if Umno and BN take over the Sabah government.

Datuk Seri Shafie has supported the return to power of Tun Mahathir Mohamad who led the previous PH government.

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