KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's main religious party has come under fire after it admitted on Wednesday (Feb 13) to lying about a voice recording that reveals it accepted millions of ringgit from former ruling party Umno to co-operate ahead of the general election last year.
The recording also triggered a probe by the anti-graft agency into whether payments from Umno to Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) came from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the troubled state fund that US investigators say had over US$4.5 billion (S$6 billion) embezzled from it.
PAS leaders have denied allegations that the party received RM90 million (S$30 million) from Umno and have handed over their accounts to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
But the admission by former PAS youth chief Nik Abduh Nik Aziz on Wednesday that he had lied - with the blessings of party leader Abdul Hadi Awang - about the March 2018 recording has severely eroded the party's credibility and moral high ground.
In the audio recording that went viral last year, Mr Nik Abduh is heard saying that PAS had, via two party leaders, accepted RM2 million from Umno. He does not state in the recording if the money came from 1MDB.
Mr Nik Abduh had then denied it was him speaking in the recording.
However, in a statement last week, Mr Nik Abduh said he had wanted to admit the veracity of the recording but was advised it would be used against PAS in the general election last May.
"Immediately, the PAS president gave his blessing for me to deny it. I was happy to follow the mandate," he said on Wednesday. "Both decisions were compliant with Shariah law."
These revelations come just two weeks ahead of a by-election in the Malay-majority ward of Semenyih in Selangor state.
While PAS has not fielded a candidate to avoid splitting the vote with its new ally, the Umno-led Barisan Nasional, the scandal could prove a distraction for Malay-Muslim voters.
PAS and Umno together amassed two-thirds of total Malay votes in the general election last year.
Analysts however say the party's supporters will stand firm.
Mr Adib Zalkapli, Malaysia director of Bowergroup Asia, a political risk consultancy, said: "PAS loyalists and those who support the Umno-PAS alliance wouldn't question their allegiance. They believe in the Malay-Muslim agenda, and for them that is a more important issue."
Critics have accused PAS of hypocrisy, by sanctioning lying - a sin - to further its political interests. They have also jumped on the RM2 million payment as evidence that Umno could have paid PAS the RM90 million, an allegation that first surfaced on whistleblower site Sarawak Report in August 2016.
PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan has insisted that the party's bank accounts are clean, while Mr Abdul Hadi has sarcastically quipped that the party's headquarters have elevators that don't work despite PAS supposedly having so much money.
Mr Takiyuddin has also defended Mr Nik Abduh, saying the audio recording was taken out of context.
"After evaluating the recording, I found that only part of what he said was quoted. What he said was taken out of context," he told reporters, adding that the anti-graft agency had yet to discover any evidence of PAS receiving 1MDB money.
"That's very clear… Whether implied or indirectly, there was no record whatsoever of us receiving RM10 million, what more RM90 million," he said.