Ex-Malaysian PM Muhyiddin arrested for graft, released on bail

Iman Muttaqin, Nisha David and Haizal Yatira
Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, Malaysia
Ex-Malaysian PM Muhyiddin arrested for graft, released on bail Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin speaks to reporters after being released on bail by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission where he was summoned for questioning, Kuala Lumpur, March 9, 2023.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Updated at 11:40 a.m. ET on 2023-03-09

Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency arrested former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Thursday on allegations of abuse of power before releasing him on bail.

The opposition leader and chief of the Bersatu party must be present in court on Friday as a bail condition, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief Azam Baki said.

Muhyiddin will also be charged on Friday with abuse of power and under the money laundering act over funds related to pandemic-relief programs while he was prime minister, Azam earlier said.

“Yes, he will be charged tomorrow,” Azam told BenarNews while Muhyiddin was being questioned at the commission.

A commission statement said that the former PM “will face several charges under Section 23 and Section 4(1) b of the Anti- Money Laundering Act.” Section 23 refers to the charge of abuse of power.

The statement added that Muhyiddin was arrested after he arrived at the commission to record his statement on the investigation “related to Jana Wibawa project and other related issues.” The project was meant to help ethnic Malays during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Muhyiddin, 75, served as prime minister from March 2020 until he resigned in August 2021, a period that spanned the height of the pandemic.

If found guilty, he would become Malaysia’s second former prime minister tarnished with a corruption-related conviction. Former leader Najib Razak was sent to prison for 12 years in 2022 over the 1MDB financial scandal which brought down his government four years earlier.

Muhyiddin could face up to 20 years and five years in prison, respectively, if prosecuted and convicted of abuse of power and money laundering.

Following his release on Thursday, he said he was not guilty.

“The reason is to humiliate me by dragging me to court tomorrow. This selective prosecution is a political move … aimed at crippling and destroying Bersatu and Perikatan Nasional,” he said, referring to the party and coalition he leads.

Opposition leader Muhyiddin Yassin gestures while surrounded by supporters and fellow Bersatu party officials at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Kuala Lumpur, March 9, 2023. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

“MACC should have known from the statements gathered, there was no element of power abuse or corruption. … I did not have the power to approve government projects. That power was with the Ministry of Finance.”

In November 2022, Muhyiddin’s coalition contested a bitter general election that ended in a hung parliament. Malaysia’s king then appointed his rival, Anwar Ibrahim, as prime minister. 

Anwar’s government has been cracking down on corruption and going after officials in Bersatu. Muhyiddin, in turn, has accused Anwar of being out to sideline him and his party as potential threats to his power.

‘Selective prosecution’

Meanwhile, Anwar on Thursday refuted allegations that the investigation into his nemesis Muhyiddin was politically motivated.

“I would like to stress here that all who want the country to be clear of corruption must look at cases one by one and see if it is true that these were politically motivated charges, as they have been saying, or are based on fact,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

The prime minister later addressed the case in parliament.

“I do not want to take on this role to prosecute, to press or to oppress anybody. I know what is meant by selective prosecution,” he said.

“They should ask for an explanation from the MACC and the AGC, the questions should be directed to them,” he said referring to the anti-corruption commission and the Attorney General’s Chambers.

Muhyiddin served as deputy prime minister under Najib and was sacked from his post in 2015 after he publicly aired concerns about the suspected theft of billions of dollars from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad state fund.

Last year, Anwar ordered a review of multi-billion ringgit government projects approved by Muhyiddin, including COVID-19 aid programs, accusing him of not following proper procedures.

The anti-graft agency chief Azam confirmed last month that the MACC froze several bank accounts held by Muhyiddin’s Bersatu as part of the agency’s investigation into the alleged misappropriation of money.

On Wednesday, Muhyiddin filed a review with the Kuala Lumpur High Court seeking to cancel the actions taken by the MACC against him and his party.

In court documents seen by BenarNews, Muhyiddin said those actions included authorizing MACC officers to freeze bank accounts owned by Bersatu and banning him from travel, adding he was ordered to surrender his passport.

Supporters of Muhyiddin Yassin, head of the opposition Bersatu party, gather outside the headquarters of the country’s anti-graft agency, March 9, 2023. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal, Bersatu youth chief, said the party led by Muhyiddin is the main threat to Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan and the powerful Barisan Nasional coalition.

“The best way to kill us was by using selective prosecution against us. The main target is Muhyiddin Yassin. The current leaders are full of vengeance,” he said.

The deputy president of the Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), which is aligned with Bersatu, offered prayers for Muhyiddin.

“We have instructed all PAS offices together with friends in Bersatu and Perikatan Nasional to perform special prayers so that Allah will save our leaders,” Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said.

This story has been updated to include comments from Muhyiddin Yassin following his release on bail, and from Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and other officials.


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