Malaysia’s ex-PM Muhyiddin released by anti-graft agency, to be charged in court on Friday

Former Malaysian prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin arriving at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission headquarters in Putrajaya on March 9, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin was released on conditional bail by graft busters on Thursday, and will be charged on Friday over alleged abuse on projects awarded under his government’s stimulus programme.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said in a statement that the former premier was detained at 1pm on Thursday, after he arrived at the agency for an interview over the case.

Following his release, Tan Sri Muhyiddin told reporters on Thursday evening that he will face seven charges, which he claimed are political in nature.

“The seven charges against me are to insult me and drag me to court. I am innocent and I will answer these charges in court,” he said.

The MACC in a statement said Mr Muhyiddin will face several charges related to corruption, abuse of power and money laundering on Friday.

He will be the second former Malaysian premier, after Najib Razak, to be charged with corruption. Najib is serving a 12-year sentence after being found guilty on one of the charges linked to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Mr Muhyiddin, 75, arrived at the MACC’s headquarters in Putrajaya around 11.15am on Thursday for questioning.

Speaking to reporters outside the MACC headquarters, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s information chief Razali Idris said: “We consider this inhumane as the party is having its elections tomorrow (Friday), and Parliament is also in session.”

Mr Muhyiddin leads Bersatu. The party and Parti Islam SeMalaysia are the main members of opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN).

The MACC is investigating allegations that contractors chosen for the stimulus programme, known as Jana Wibawa, were required to deposit money amounting to RM300 million (S$90 million) in the accounts of Bersatu, in return for projects.

Mr Muhyiddin has denied the allegations, calling them political slander.

The Jana Wibawa programme was launched to help bumiputera contractors during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was conceived by former finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, who is now International Trade and Industry Minister.

On Thursday, several PN MPs skipped the Parliament session to show solidarity with Mr Muhyiddin, who is also chairman of the PN coalition.

Bersatu’s supreme leadership council member Azmin Ali, who was at the MACC headquarters in support of the party leader, is confident that Mr Muhyiddin is innocent.

“As a supporter of the party that always insists on the principles of accountability, transparency, integrity and rejection of corruption and kleptocrats, I will continue to be with Muhyiddin,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Responding to critics who claim that the probe is politically motivated, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Thursday said the ongoing probe against Mr Muhyiddin is being carried out independently by the graft busters.

“To say all cases are motivated by politics, does that mean we can’t arrest (anyone)? All the big corruption cases should be dropped?” Datuk Seri Anwar asked.

Mr Muhyiddin has also been barred from travelling outside of Malaysia, which the Bersatu president said was “wrongful”. He has challenged the travel ban in a judicial review application filed in the High Court.

He also filed a judicial review application on Wednesday to challenge the MACC’s decision to freeze his party’s bank accounts.

On March 2, the treasurer of Bersatu, Mr Mohd Salleh Bajuri, was arrested by the MACC and remanded for two days in relation to a probe into the party’s funds.

Mr Muhyiddin on Wednesday confirmed that the anti-graft agency had summoned him to appear at its offices on Thursday. In a Facebook post, he also denied a news report that he was arrested on Wednesday.

Mr Muhyiddin, who was Malaysian prime minister for 17 months between 2020 and 2021, did not say why he had been summoned by the MACC.

Mr Anwar, who came to power last November, ordered a review of government projects worth billions of dollars approved by Mr Muhyiddin, including Covid-19 relief programmes, saying that they did not follow proper procedures.

Mr Muhyiddin has denied the accusations, describing them as a political vendetta.

Mr Anwar’s office and the MACC did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Mr Anwar and Mr Muhyiddin went head-to-head in a tightly contested election last November.

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