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Another former Malaysian Prime Minister charged for corruption and money laundering

Updated: Mar 30

After the infamous 1MDB scandal which saw Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s imprisonment, another former Malaysian Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, has been arrested by the country’s anti-graft body on 9 March over corruption charges.

He was then charged in Sessions Court the next day with four charges of corruption and two counts of money laundering, receiving gratification of over RM230 million from several entities.

He has claimed trial for the charges against him and was granted bail for RM2 million.

The court also ordered Muhyiddin to surrender his passport.

Muhyiddin, now 75 years old, was Malaysia’s second shortest serving Prime Minister from 1 March 2020 till 16 August 2021, following the unprecedented ‘Sheraton Move’ which left the Malaysian political scene in shambles.

Just like his unprecedented rise to power, Muhyiddin’s downfall too was unprecedented as he had to resign only after 17 months in office due to the loss of support from his fellow MPs.

This was because UMNO withdrew support for Muhyiddin due to the way he had (mis)handled the COVID-19 situation in Malaysia.

Business as usual: A public scheme, a scandal, and corruption charges

According to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, he was arrested after he arrived at their headquarters to give a statement on the government’s Jana Wibawa scheme.

The scheme was introduced when Muhyiddin helmed office as a way to push for Malaysia’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery and assist bumiputera’s contractors through expediting the execution of projects.

The charges against Muhyiddin are yet another case of a Malaysian Prime Minister using public funds for personal gain, similar to the 1MDB scandal which led to the downfall of Najib.

1MDB was a state investment fund set up by Najib Razak.

It was meant to promote economic development in Malaysia through strategic investments and partnerships with foreign entities.

Najib then syphoned billions from 1MDB for his own personal gain.

The two cases here are almost identical - a public fund set up to spur economic activity and generate investments, only to end up in the Prime Ministers’ pockets.

Money out, money in

The arrest and charges against Muhyiddin did not happen overnight.

In fact, the events unfolded as early as December 2022 when current Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, said that the Ministry of Finance found that there had been a breach of procedure in handling RM600 billion used for the scheme.

Following the revelation, Muhyiddin’s party, Bersatu, accounts were frozen in February 2023 by the anti-graft commission.

Its information chief, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, claimed trial for receiving about RM7 million in bribes from the scheme.

He was also accused of receiving RM232 million in bribes relating to the scheme.

A businessman, Adam Radlan, was accused of accepting RM500,000 of bribes. He was further accused of accepting bribes over RM4 million, RM2 million and RM2.1 million separately from companies for construction projects, including government contracts.

Another businessman, Teo Wee Cheng, was also slapped with nine charges of soliciting and accepting bribes over RM12 million.

All pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Finally, Muhyiddin

The witch hunt finally landed on Muhyiddin on 9 March as he was called in to be questioned by the MACC.

The day before, there had been speculations that he was arrested while playing golf but he took to Facebook and clarified that it was false, and further stated that he was summoned to the MACC for questioning the next day.

Muhyiddin was also previously questioned by the anti-graft commission about his political coalition, the Perikatan Nasional’s, funds that were used during Malaysia’s 15th General Election held in November 2022.

Political ploy?

Muhyiddin’s political backers cried foul over his arrest and have called the move a political ploy by Anwar.

Wan Saiful claimed that Anwar was trying to cripple the Perikatan Nasional with Muhyiddin’s arrest.

He further claimed that there is a crackdown on political opposition by Anwar.

“He is merely an old vengeful opportunist,” he said.

According to Wan Sairful, Anwar’s next target after Muhyiddin would be Hadi Awang, the president of PAS, an Islamist party which forms part of the Perikatan Nasional coalition.

Hadi was recently questioned by the police over his statement that the Perikatan Nasional was planning to topple the government.

Anwar clarified during a doorstop interview that to call it a political ploy was “not right”.

He added that the arrest was made under the jurisdiction of MACC and he does not know where the case is going.

Anwar's lawsuits

Despite Anwar’s clarification, it is no surprise that his opponents view the recent move as laden with political motives.

Since he became the country’s 10th Prime Minister, Anwar has been suing his political opponents over alleged defamation remarks.

In December 2022, he filed a defamation suit against Sanusi Md Nor, Kedah’s Menteri Besar, over a statement made against him during GE15.

Sanusi had claimed that Anwar was a fraud and untrustworthy.

He further claimed that the Prime Minister had betrayed the people's mandate.

Anwar also filed another defamation suit against opposition MP Awang Hashim after claiming that Anwar was not properly appointed to office.

He also allegedly made the remark that opposition MPs were subjected to selective prosecution.

More notably, Muhyiddin was also slapped with a defamation lawsuit by Anwar after he claimed that Anwar was paid RM15 million per year as Selangor’s economic adviser.

With so many lawsuits against political opponents, it was no wonder that Muhyiddin’s arrest was seen as a political move by Anwar.

At the end of the day, the Malaysian political scene over the past decade seems to have been going through scandal after scandal.

Party-hopping and constantly shifting alliances have led to abrupt changes in power, while mudslinging and corruption has rocked the country with massive corruption cases like that of 1MDB.

Only time will tell if the new political era can bring change to the nation’s embattled political history.

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