Mahathir gives PM Anwar 7 days to retract ‘slanderous’ claims or face legal action

Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad demanded on Monday that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim back his claim. PHOTOS: JASON QUAH, AFP

Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad has demanded that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim retract “slanderous” claims that he had enriched himself and his family while in power.

If Datuk Seri Anwar fails to respond within seven days to the letter of demand dated March 27, Tun Dr Mahathir said he will proceed with legal action.

“These are terrible accusations and give a very bad impression of me. It is slander, unless he can show proof that I have billions of ringgit, I channelled money overseas and I don’t pay taxes,” he told the Malaysian media on Tuesday.

In a speech at his Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s congress on March 18, Mr Anwar had alluded to someone “who had been in power for 22 years and (later) an additional 22 months” using his position to enrich his family and himself.

While Mr Anwar did not mention Dr Mahathir by name, he also said the person was complaining about Malays losing their dominance only after he was no longer in power.

Dr Mahathir demanded on Monday that the Prime Minister back his claim.

On Tuesday, he said it was clear that Mr Anwar was referring to no other former premier but him because “I was in power for 22 years and 22 months”.

Dr Mahathir, 97, served as premier twice – from 1981 to 2003, and from 2018 to 2020 – and resigned both times. He lost his parliamentary seat of Langkawi in the 2022 General Election.

“Although I have heard similar remarks which he made in the past, but at that time he was not prime minister. Now he is prime minister, and prime ministers have the responsibility to not simply make such accusations without any clear proof,” Dr Mahathir added.

He also said he will continue to be politically active as he believes the people still need his experience, adding that he could not say no if people sought him out for advice.

“For the love of the country... if someone comes and asks me for help, I could not say ‘I am sorry I cannot help because I want to rest’. I still have ideas and (if asked) I’m ready to share,” he said.

Dr Mahathir and Mr Anwar used to have a close relationship, with the former calling Mr Anwar his friend and protege.

He anointed Mr Anwar his successor, but later, amid disagreements over how to handle the Asian financial crisis in 1998, he said Mr Anwar was unfit to lead “because of his character”.

Between his stints as deputy prime minister in the 1990s and as official prime minister-in-waiting in 2018, Mr Anwar spent nearly a decade in jail for sodomy and corruption – charges that he said were politically motivated.

After decades of enmity, the two buried the hatchet briefly in 2018 to oust the then ruling Barisan Nasional coalition – only to fall out again within two years, ending their 22-month-old Pakatan Harapan government and plunging Malaysia into a period of instability.

The last election, on Nov 19, left the country in political limbo after no coalition gained enough seats to form a government.

Mr Anwar and rival Muhyiddin Yassin, whose coalitions had the two largest blocs in Parliament but no simple majority needed to form the government, raced against each other to become premier.

The situation was resolved only when Mr Anwar gained the backing of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional to form a unity government.

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