The former chief minister of the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah pleaded not guilty Monday to 35 counts of graft linked to 263 million ringgit (U.S. $63 million) in bribes he had allegedly taken through timber contracts there.
Musa Aman, who was charged at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, is accused of using his position as chief minister to take bribe money in Singapore and Hong Kong, between 2004 and 2008. He is the third highest-ranking official from the United Malays National Organization political party to be charged for corruption-related offenses since UMNO was swept from power in a general election in May.
Musa was released after meeting Judge Rozina Ayob’s order to pay a bail of 2 million ringgit ($479,430). The judge allowed for two payments, but Musa was able to pay it off by the day’s end.
The judge ordered Musa, 67, who serves as a lawmaker in the state’s assembly, to surrender his personal and diplomatic passports and set Dec. 13 for the next court appearance.
The prosecution, led by former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram, told the court said it was surprised that two former attorneys general, Abdul Gani Patail and Apandi Ali, did not file charges against Musa. The two served as members of the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition under Prime Minister Najib Razak that was defeated in the May 9 election.
“The case has been investigated and I do not understand why it was closed. Now it has reopened and we have a strong case,” Gopal said while filing charges.
Because the allegations are related to alleged incidents from 2004 to 2008, Musa was charged under the 1997 Crime Prevention Act because the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act did not become law until 2009.
Musa is accused of accepting bribes through individuals acting as his proxies, according to the charge sheet.
Among the individuals mentioned was Chia Tien Foh. Chia was sentenced in 2014 to a year in prison and a lash of a cane after being found guilty of cheating businessman Agus Hassan of 2.5 million ringgit ($600,000) in 2004.
‘The fate of those who do not want to bow down’
Musa is the latest UMNO leader to appear in court since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition took control of the government six months ago. Najib, the former PM, faces 38 criminal counts and UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who served as Najib’s deputy prime minister, faces 45 counts.
While BN ceded power to PH, Musa was sworn in as Sabah’s chief minister on May 10 because the party held a simple majority in the state. He was removed two days later after two party members changed their alliance.
Musa filed a lawsuit against Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, who replaced him, and state Gov. Tun Juhar Mahiruddin over his dismissal. The Kota Kinabalu High Court is to rule later this week.
Lokman Noor Adam, a member of UMNO’s supreme council member and president of the Pemantau Malaysia Baharu NGO, said the new government’s prosecution of Musa was a ploy ahead of decision on his lawsuit.
“This is the fate of those who do not want to bow down to (Prime Minister) Mahathir’s greed,” he said in a statement. “When they realize they will not win in the Sabah chief minister’s case that is to be decided on Wednesday, they charge him and defame his name in order for other assemblymen to go against him.”