Ex-Sabah chief minister acquitted after graft charges dropped

Former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman had faced 46 charges related to corruption and money laundering.
Former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman had faced 46 charges related to corruption and money laundering.

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 yesterday told the court that the prosecution would withdraw all 46 charges against Tan Sri Musa. His lawyer, Mr 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 yesterday.

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$87.8 million) in Hong Kong and Singapore in exchange for offering timber concessions in Sabah.

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

Last October, the prosecution dropped five charges of graft and made amendments to 30 charges.

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

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

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

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

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.

Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal has supported the return to power of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who led the previous PH government. PH issued a statement yesterday calling the decision to drop the charges against Mr Musa "extremely confusing and disappointing".

Attorney-General Idrus Harun, in a statement, cited a lack of evidence for the turn of events, saying documentary evidence which was expected could not be obtained and that prosecution witnesses had died, were sickly or were not in Malaysia anymore.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2020, with the headline Ex-Sabah chief minister acquitted after graft charges dropped. Subscribe