KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s anti-graft chief Mohd Shukri Abdull has resigned, with his position taken over by former politician Latheefa Koya who quit Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) on Monday (June 3), a day before her appointment was publicly announced.
Datuk Seri Shukri’s resignation came as a shock to many as he was just a year into his two-year appointment, after being made commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) on May 17 last year, eight days after Pakatan Harapan (PH) won federal power.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday said Mr Shukri, 59, had requested to end his contract early, with the Malaysian King providing consent to his resignation and to Ms Latheefa’s appointment. She started serving her two-year contract from last Saturday (June 1).
Still, his sudden departure raised questions, considering his replacement’s political leanings.
“I believe there are hidden hands who forced Shukri to step down,” a senior MACC source told The Straits Times. The source said given Mr Shukri’s plans for MACC and the slew of cases it is probing following the change in government, there were no reasons for him to quit.
But another top government official said Mr Shukri had really wanted to quit early. “He was offered tp serve until December but he couldn’t wait to go off,” the second official said.
Mr Shukri himself, in a text reply to The Straits Times, said: “I promised Tun (Mahathir Mohamad) to serve for one year. My focus was to finish my unfinished job like the 1MDB and SRC cases… My mission is accomplished. I’ve placed MACC on the right track”.
He was in 2015 leading corruption probes into state fund 1MDB and its then-subsidiary SRC International, units of the Finance Ministry then headed by former premier and finance minister Najib Razak.
Mr Shukri was pressured to retire from the MACC in 2016 but was brought back as its chief by Dr Mahathir. Mr Shukri is credited with sewing up several corruption investigations involving the previous administration, with Najib now on trial for receiving RM42 million (S$13.8 million) from SRC International and has four other pending cases tied to 1Malaysia Development Bhd.
Days after after Mr Shukri was appointed MACC chief last year, he held a tearful tell-all session describing how he received a bullet and offers of large sums of money to drop the 2015 probe into 1MDB.
Today, despite Mr Shukri’s assurance that his job at MACC is done, the choice of Ms Latheefa did not sit well with some Malaysians.
A lawyer by profession, Ms Latheefa, 46, has been an activist and served as PKR’s central committee member. She had represented several PKR leaders in court.
Although she has quit PKR – a member of the PH coalition that governs Malaysia – there were many social media comments that pointed out the government’s promise to do away with political appointees, a practice common during the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government.
On Twitter, there were more criticisms than congratulatory posts, with one user @awesomeameen surmising: “A simple resignation from a political party a day before appointment isn’t enough to mark her credibility to lead a non-partisan and neutral MACC”.
Another user posted: “Even BN didn’t appoint a politician to head MACC. Dumb move of the highest order”.
There were also those who applauded the appointment, as Ms Latheefa is the first woman to head the agency.
Prominent rights lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan tweeted: “No doubt many crooks will be uncomfortable and terrified. Another bold appointment by the PH government. Well done!”
PKR lawmaker Fahmi Fadzil told The Straits Times in response to public concerns that Ms Latheefa is a political appointee: “Now the public will need to assess for itself her bona fides, that she will be able to act professionally, independently, and without fear or favour”.
Ms Latheefa is known to be a strident critic of the supporters of PKR president Anwar Ibrahim such as Rafizi Ramli, a former MP.
Last December, Ms Latheefa voiced her disapproval over Datuk Seri Anwar’s decision to appoint his daughter Nurul Izzah as PKR Penang chief. Ms Nurul Izzah resigned soon after her appointment, having sought to avoid conflict of interests.
Ms Latheefa had alleged “cronyism and nepotism” within the party. In PKR, she is known to be aligned to the faction headed by Economics Affairs Minister Azmin Ali, who is also PKR deputy president.