Police have opened a defamation case against ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for allegedly remarking in public that Malaysia’s king had likely been “placed under house arrest,” Mahathir’s lawyer said.
Mahathir on Friday was questioned at his office in Kuala Lumpur by four police officers for 40 minutes, including about the remark he is alleged to have made on May 19 while seeking royal intervention in his campaign to remove Najib from office over corruption allegations, attorney Mohamad Haniff Khatri said.
“There were 37 questions. Two thirds of the questions concerned his statement on the King and house arrest,” Haniff Khatri told BenarNews.
Mahathir, one of Najib’s fiercest critics and a former member of the prime minister’s party, since early March has spearheaded a Citizens’ Declaration campaign which has sought to gather 1.2 million signatures on a petition to oust Najib through non-violent means.
Mahathir and the campaign’s supporters were hoping to get a royal audience and hand the petition to the king, who is known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and who is the head of state in Malaysia.
The police also questioned Mahathir about the Citizens' Declaration, the lawyer said.
Friday’s interview marked the third time in less than a year that the 90-year-old former PM was questioned over public comments related to Najib Razak.
‘False and mischievous’
Since last year, Mahathir has led calls for Najib to resign over alleged corruption, particularly over a scandal involving the deposit of $681 million into his private banks accounts of money linked to the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Najib has refused to resign and has maintained that he never used the money for personal gain.
Four days after quitting the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party that heads Malaysia’s ruling coalition, Mahathir teamed up with other political figures and civil society leaders to launch a Citizens’ Declaration demanding Najib’s ouster.
On May 13, Mahathir announced that the Citizens’ Declaration had met its target of gathering 1.2 million signatures.
He was later quoted as saying in public that the King and other members of Malaysia’s Conference of Rulers had likely been “placed under house arrest” in order to prevent them from receiving the signatures gathered on the petition.
On May 23, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission adviser Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim filed a police report against the former prime minister regarding his claims, saying they were “false and mischievous.”
“Our Federal Constitution crystalizes the actual position and role played by the Monarchs (Rulers) as the fourth arm in this system, to carry necessary checks and balances on the other three arms of the government,” said Mahathir’s lead counsel, Haniff.
He was referring to the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government as well as Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy, in which the role of king revolves once every five years among the rulers of the country’s states.
“Of course, it would then be within the constitutional powers of the monarch to either order Najib to take leave from his office for a certain period deemed suitable in the discretion of the King in order for necessary authorities to carry out investigations – or order Najib to resign from his office,” Haniff added.
Abdul Aziz Bari, a professor of constitutional law, said the Conference of Rulers could play a limited role in checking and balancing power.
“They can intervene just like monarchs in other countries so long as the end result is promoting democracy and the objectives of the Constitution,” he told BenarNews.
Hata Wahari contributed to this report.