KUALA LUMPUR - The youngest man to be appointed to cabinet in Malaysia's history, Mr Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, was charged on Thursday (July 22) with misappropriating RM1 million (S$323,070) from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).
Syed Saddiq, 28, appeared in a court in Kuala Lumpur charged with two counts of criminal breach of trust and another one for allegedly misappropriating RM120,000 of party election funds in 2018.
The offences were allegedly committed while he was serving as youth chief of Tan Sri Muhyiddin's party, days after the collapse of the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration - in which he had served as youth and sports minister.
According to the charges read out at the Sessions Court in front of Judge Azura Alwi, Syed Saddiq allegedly withdrew party funds in the form of a cheque without the approval of the party's central committee in March last year.
He pleaded not guilty and claimed trial for both charges. Another opposition MP, Democratic Action Party's (DAP) Gobind Singh Deo, acted as defence counsel.
If found guilty, he could face up to 10 years imprisonment, caning and also a fine. He was released on a RM300,000 bail with one surety.
Reports on Wednesday said that Syed Saddiq could also face a separate money laundering charge in Johor, where he serves as MP for Muar ward.
The former cabinet minister currently heads his own party called Muda - Malaysia's first youth-based political party which is in the opposition bloc.
Syed Saddiq, who at age 25 became Malaysia's youngest minister and third youngest elected lawmaker, has denounced the charges as politically motivated, saying they were an attempt to obtain his support for Mr Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration ahead of Parliament reconvening next week.
In a Facebook Live session on Thursday, he said that all the funds in question were accounted for.
He said that the RM120,000 raised in 2018 were for his own political campaign to contest the Muar parliamentary seat. He also said that the RM 1 million belonged to Bersatu's Youth wing, and all of its key leaders were aware of the withdrawal at the time. He also said that it was never a practice for Bersatu leaders to seek the central committee's approval to withdraw party funds.
"The RM1 million is not missing, it is all accounted for," Syed Saddiq said.
Malaysia's Parliament will sit for the first time this year from Monday, with doubts remaining over Mr Muhyiddin's wafer-thin majority.
In late March last year, Syed Saddiq lodged a police report over a sum of RM250,000 that allegedly went missing from a safe at his house in Selangor, which prompted a probe from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
Syed Saddiq claimed that the missing sum belonged to him and his family, and that it did not belong to Bersatu.
Syed Saddiq is the second ex-minister from the PH administration to face criminal charges since Mr Muhyiddin's PN administration took power last year.
Democratic Action Party leader Lim Guan Eng, who was the finance minister when PH ruled for less than two years, is also facing corruption charges over the Penang undersea tunnel project that received the go-ahead during his tenure as Penang chief minister.
Parliament will convene for five days from Monday, after Malaysia's King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, said last month it should meet as soon as possible.
It is expected to discuss measures taken by Mr Muhyiddin's administration to deal with the Covid-19 crisis in Malaysia, much of which was implemented without parliamentary approval following the state of emergency, which was imposed in January and is due to end on Aug 1.
The number of Covid-19 infections in the country worsened during the emergency. Malaysia is currently registering new daily infections in the five-figures, and is averaging more than 100 deaths a day.
Syed Saddiq's Muda is also currently engaged in a court battle with the Home Affairs Ministry over the lack of approval for Muda to be registered as a political party with the Registrar of Societies.