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Malaysian PM Appoints New Top Lawyer, as Anti-Graft Chief Resigns

Muzliza Mustafa and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
2020-03-06
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Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Chief Latheefa Koya speaks to reporters outside a courtroom in Kuala Lumpur, March 5, 2020.
Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Chief Latheefa Koya speaks to reporters outside a courtroom in Kuala Lumpur, March 5, 2020.
AP

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Friday appointed a federal court judge as the nation’s top lawyer amid questions over how the new government would pursue ongoing trials against key figures linked to the multibillion-dollar theft at state fund 1MDB.

Yassin’s office announced that Judge Idrus Harun would be the new attorney-general on the same day that the nation’s anti-corruption chief confirmed that she had tendered her resignation, the second senior official to quit after the ruling alliance led by Mahathir Mohamad collapsed last week.

Idrus’ appointment came after the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, also known as Yang di-Pertuan Agong, had accepted Tommy Thomas’ “application to shorten his service” as attorney-general.

“The government wishes to record its gratitude to Tan Sri Tommy Thomas for his service to the country during his tenure of office as Attorney-General,” a statement from the prime minister’s office said, using an honorific.

Thomas, who filed corruption charges against former Prime Minister Najib Razak over the 1MDB financial scandal, resigned last week saying he had to step aside and give way to the new government to appoint his successor since he was a political appointee.

“His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong had consented to the appointment of Tan Sri Idrus bin Harun, the Federal Court Judge, as the new Attorney-General for a two-year term effective March 6, 2020,” the statement added.

Latheefa Koya, chief of the Anti-Corruption Commission, said she was not pressured to resign.

“Speculation that pressure was brought up upon me was baseless,” she said in a statement Friday, emphasizing that her decision would allow her to work again as a human rights advocate.

Latheefa and Thomas were appointed by Mahathir after his Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition brought down Najib’s corruption-tainted government in 2018. Their decisions to quit came after a change in government that surprised the nation following a week of political infighting and horse-trading that led to Mahathir’s resignation.

Mahathir resigned, saying he refused to work with graft-tainted politicians. He also accused the new governing coalition of joining forces with “kleptocrats” embroiled in the embezzlement of money from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

“As I had repeatedly stated, I am against any form of cooperation with individuals who are known to be corrupt and was part of the kleptocratic administration which the Pakatan Harapan government had worked hard to rid off,” Mahathir said in his Feb. 29 statement.

Mahathir, who was ousted as prime minister as a result of the realignment of political affiliations that required the king’s intervention, had accused Najib and his party United Malays National Organization (UMNO) of engineering the political crisis to avoid conviction in his 1MBD-related cases.

Muhyiddin came to power after his Bersatu party formed an alliance with UMNO, the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and other parties.

“If Najib can be part of the government now, he can do all sorts of things to free himself,” Mahathir told reporters on Sunday.

It was not immediately clear how Muhyiddin reacted to Latheefa’s resignation. The Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately respond to a BenarNews phone call seeking comments.

The resignations raised questions on the future of the 1MDB trials. But Cynthia Gabriel, director of the anti-corruption watchdog C4 Centre in Kuala Lumpur, told reporters that “the worst-case scenario is that these grand corruption trials will be dropped through judicial interference and more.”

Latheefa said that she had a meeting with Muhyiddin on Thursday during which she discussed the ongoing efforts to recover the stolen 1MDB funds.

“He was fully supportive of these actions,” she said in a one-page statement issued to media.

Local reports said MACC’s deputy chief commissioner of operation, Azam Baki, would take over Latheefa’s place starting Monday.

Latheefa announced her resignation a day after she testified in court about recordings of phone calls released by her office that she said included Najib, his wife, Rosmah, and various individuals linked to the 1MDB probe.

Rosmah, 68, and Najib, 66, are at the center of a wide-ranging corruption probe into 1MDB. After Mahathir took power, he barred the couple from leaving the country and authorities raided their properties, confiscating up to U.S. $273 million in cash, jewelry and luxury handbags that, critics said, symbolized the couple’s ostentatious lifestyle.

Najib is also facing 42 counts of graft, breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering related to allegations that about $4.5 billion had been siphoned off from 1MDB, which he founded in 2009. If found guilty, Najib could spend the rest of his life in prison. Prosecutors also filed three counts of corruption against Rosmah in November 2018.

Among other things, Latheefa was asked about her intention in revealing the audio to the public.

“It contains a very serious matter of public interest,” local newspapers quoted her as saying. “It reveals conversations where members of the government and institutions … were involved in conspiring to cover up certain investigations against persons.”

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