KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Home Minister has again defended an all-expenses trip to Istanbul taken by the national police chief, saying it was not sponsored by a private company.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin told reporters on Thursday (Feb 14) that "there was nothing wrong" with the working trip as it was funded by the Malaysia Totalisator Board, a body under the Ministry of Finance that regulates betting agencies.
Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun, who is due to retire in May, found himself embroiled in controversy after reports and photos emerged of him enjoying a lavish trip to Istanbul, Turkey, just months ahead of his retirement from the force.
The Inspector General of Police (IGP), who travelled to Istanbul with 16 of his men, some of whom took their wives along, had stayed at four-star Hotel Sura Hagia Sophia in the Sultanahmet district at an estimated cost of RM685 (S$228) a night.
"It was definitely not a working trip," a source told The Straits Times. "Seeing that he's retiring in May, the Home Minister is cutting him some slack by closing one eye. After all, Fuzi is expected to go on leave before his retirement in May," the source added.
Mr Muhyiddin had earlier denied that the trip, which reportedly took place from Feb 7 to 12, was a form of reward for senior officers for their services.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng had earlier denied that the trip was funded by his ministry or by taxpayers. He said that the trip was approved by the Malaysia Totalisator Board, which is funded by private numbers forecasting company Da Ma Cai.
The purpose of the trip was to learn how to tackle online gambling.
Another source told The Straits Times the trip was "a waste of time". "You don't have to go to China to learn how to make tofu," the source said.
The trip was first highlighted by whistle-blower site Sarawak Report on Sunday. Based on a rough calculation done by the portal, the cost of flights and accommodation for the 17 policemen totalled RM254,218 and RM58,225 respectively.
Since returning to Malaysia on Tuesday, Mr Fuzi has yet to comment on the trip.
"There is no doubt that he is nice but he has this habit of extending his stay to play golf after he's done with a meeting abroad. He also used the service of outriders before, even when he was not entitled to at the time," a source told The Straits Times.
Mr Fuzi was appointed as the IGP on Sept 4, 2017, by former premier Najib Razak to replace Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar.
During his tenure, Mr Fuzi had famously said that there was no solid evidence linking fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, to any decision or business deals made by state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Malaysia has issued warrants of arrest against Low and his associates and charged him with money laundering of over US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) of 1MDB funds.
After Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over Putrajaya in the May 9 polls, Mr Fuzi was widely expected to be given the boot for failing to act on the 1MDB scandal.
"He was supposed to be replaced when PH came to power. However, the government decided to keep him after a candidate, who was supposed to replace Fuzi, declined the offer. Fuzi had also personally gone to meet Dr Mahathir, expressing his wish to 'leave' with dignity once his term is up," said the same source, referring to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Malaysia's police force is expected to announce the appointment of a new IGP and deputy IGP soon.
Mr Fuzi's deputy, Tan Sri Noor Rashid Ibrahim, is also due to retire in March.
There have been talks within the ministry and the police force that Special Branch chief Abdul Hamid Bador will succeed Mr Fuzi.
Datuk Abdul Hamid was in 2015 transferred to the Prime Minister's Department after 37 years with the police force, a move which he believed was due to him urging the Najib administration to probe the 1MDB scandal.