Updated at 12:49 p.m. ET on 2018-10-18
Malaysian authorities on Thursday arrested opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is expected to be taken to court on Friday to face money-laundering and corruption-related charges, officials said.
Zahid is the next highest-ranking official from Malaysia’s previous government to be taken into custody by the national anti-graft agency, after former Prime Minister Najib Razak was arrested twice and charged in connection with a massive financial scandal linked to 1MDB, a state investment fund.
Zahid, 65, was placed under arrest at the headquarters of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in Putrajaya, soon after arriving there in the mid-afternoon in response to a summons from the agency. It said his arrest resulted from its probe into Zahid over alleged corruption involving money from a foundation that he chaired.
“The MACC has arrested former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in connection with our investigation related to power abuse, criminal breach of trust and money laundering linked to a foundation after we received a green light from the Attorney General’s Chamber,” it said in a statement.
“[Z]ahid will be facing several charges under the MACC Act 2009 and Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001,” the agency said, adding he would be charged at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court on Friday morning.
Zahid was to be held in MACC custody overnight before Friday’s court appearance, according to a source at the agency.
“Yes, he is arrested and will spend the night at the headquarters in Putrajaya,” the source told BenarNews via a text message.
Zahid is president of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the anchor party in the Barisan Nasional coalition, which lost a general election in May after ruling the country for 61 years.
His arrest is the first of a sitting UMNO president in the party’s 72-year history. He is also the second top party leader to be arrested over suspected corruption and abuse of power after Najib, who resigned as chief of Barisan and UMNO soon after the electoral defeat.
Zahid served as Najib’s deputy from July 2015 until Barisan was upset in the May 9 polls by the Pakatan Harapan alliance. It won on a platform of promising to rid government of corruption and to investigate the alleged theft of billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a sovereign wealth fund started by Najib in 2009.
MACC was investigating Zahid on suspicion that he misappropriated 800,000 ringgit (U.S. $192,000) from the Akal Budi Foundation to pay off credit bills accumulated by him and his wife, according to Malaysian media reports. Zahid chaired the charity, which gave money to religious schools and provided students with grants.
On the eve of his arrest, Zahid told Benar that his expected arrest and the charges to be brought against him were “politically motivated.” He did not answer any more questions.
Zahid’s lawyer, Hamidi Mohd Noh, said his client was officially arrested at 3:42 p.m. after being brought to the commission’s subterranean investigation room.
“Despite usually being allowed to follow Zahid, lawyers are not allowed to go with him this time,” the attorney told BenarNews in a text message. “Nobody was allowed to follow him after 3 p.m.”
Questioned multiple times
Before his arrest Zahid spent some 32 hours being questioned in four separate interviews with MACC that took place on July 3 and between Oct. 10 and Oct. 12.
In July, he was also grilled by the agency over his knowledge of the 1MDB affair, where he purportedly claimed to have met with a member of Saudi Arabia's royal family who was said to have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to former Prime Minister Najib. The ex-leader has denied any criminal wrongdoing in MACC investigations targeting him.
In early October, Najib’s spouse, Rosmah Mansor, was arrested and charged with money-laundering and tax fraud in connection with the 1MDB scandal. She pleaded not guilty.
‘Revenge burning in their hearts’
At 9 p.m. on Thursday (local time), hours after Zahid was arrested, a crowd that included his daughter and granddaughter gathered in front of the agency’s headquarters in a show of solidarity with the former deputy prime minister.
Zahid’s wife, Hamidah Khamis, called on the UMNO faithful to give the party’s president their full support.
“He has given his support for his race, religion and country in the past,” she said in an audio recording obtained by BenarNews.
She also urged the Pakatan government to be fair and not point fingers at people.
“There are still elements of revenge burning in their hearts that pit Malays against Malays,” she said, adding that this could lead to the destruction of the country’s ethnic majority.
When asked on Thursday whether Zahid’s arrest would affect his standing as party chief, UMNO Secretary General Annuar Musa replied that it was too soon to say.
“We shall follow the legal process. We as UMNO are very obedient to the law as long as it is carried out through the right process,” Annuar said.