Former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman yesterday pleaded not guilty to 35 charges of receiving bribes totalling US$63 million (S$87 million) in exchange for logging contracts.
According to the charge sheets, the 67-year-old had allegedly received the sum between Dec 20, 2004, and Nov 6, 2008, via proxies in Hong Kong and Singapore, as an inducement for awarding timber concessions in the East Malaysian state.
Musa was granted bail of RM2 million (S$660,000) with two sureties and ordered to surrender both his civil and diplomatic passports.
He was allowed to pay RM1 million yesterday and has to settle the remaining RM1 million by tomorrow. He is to remain in Peninsular Malaysia until the full amount has been paid.
Musa, a member of former ruling party Umno, was chief minister of Sabah for 15 years, from 2003 until May this year.
The charges against the Sungai Sibuga assemblyman come two days before the High Court is set to rule on his legal claim that he is the rightful Sabah chief minister, after he was appointed on May 10, the day after the country's general election. He claims that the subsequent appointment of Parti Warisan Sabah president Shafie Apdal, the current chief minister, on May 12, was illegal.
"Why arrest him now, just before the High Court is set to deliver its decision? I hope that this is not some ploy to prejudice Tan Sri Musa in the eyes of the Kota Kinabalu High Court," Musa's lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad said in a statement issued yesterday.
But Mr Amer noted that his client's arrest would not affect his eligibility to act as chief minister as he had not been convicted of any crime.
The charges against Musa also mention the name of one Chia Tien Foh more than a dozen times.
Mr Chia, also known as Michael Chia, is a timber tycoon and is known to be Musa's associate.
Mr Chia's name had cropped up in April 2012, after whistleblower website Sarawak Report claimed that he had been nabbed trying to smuggle RM40 million worth of Singaporean currency from Hong Kong International Airport to Malaysia in 2008.
Mr Chia had purportedly told the authorities that the money was meant for Musa.
His revelation prompted an investigation into international fund transfers, then believed to be tied to possible money-laundering activities connected to the illegal felling of timber in Sabah.
In October 2012, however, former tourism minister Mohamed Nazri Aziz told the Malaysian Parliament that Musa had been cleared of graft by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission after the agency found that the RM40 million was not for his personal use, but was a "political donation" to the Sabah chapter of Umno.
"The charges are based on allegations made 10 years ago. (The) timing of (the) charges smell of selective persecution," said Mr Amer.
Musa is the latest Umno leader to be charged with corruption since the Pakatan Harapan coalition won the May election. Former prime minister Najib Razak and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi have been charged with corruption, criminal breach of trust and money-laundering.