A Malaysian court Wednesday ordered that the chief operating officer of an ailing state fund, which helps Muslims save money for their Mecca pilgrimage, be remanded for four days so the anti-corruption commission (MACC) could investigate bribery allegations, officials said.
Adi Azuan Abdul Ghani, the 48-year-old COO of Tabung Haji, is suspected of using his position to employ an interior decorator appointed by the fund to do renovation work at his residence. He is the first top executive of the fund to be held for questioning amid allegations of financial misdeeds by senior officials there.
Shah Wira Abdul Halim, a magistrate at the court in Putrajaya, ordered that Adi be held for questioning after hearing a request from investigators that he remain in custody for seven days while his lawyer asked for just three.
“I am setting remand for four days on Adi Azuan and his detainment will end on Saturday,” Shah Wira said.
Investigators said Adi could face a prison sentence of not more than 20 years and fines not less than five times the amount of the graft if charged and convicted of violating the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Act.
“He is suspected of receiving bribes from an individual who called himself an agent, and it is likely his remand order will be extended,” lawyer Shaharudin Ali told reporters in the courthouse lobby.
MACC sources who requested anonymity told BenarNews that Adi was being detained for receiving a gratuity in the form of a home renovation valued at 400,000 ringgit (U.S. $95,700). The bribe was allegedly given as a kickback after a company secured a project through Tabung Haji (TH) valued at 15 million ringgit ($3.6 million).
The court action followed a complaint last week against other TH officials.
On Friday, plantation company Trurich Resources filed a police report against three former TH top managers for allegedly misleading it in overpriced acquisitions of two palm oil plantations in Indonesia totaling $58 million (242.4 million ringgit).
The complaint named former TH chief executive officer (CEO) Ismee Ismail, former TH Plantation Bhd CEOs Zainal Azwar and Rashidi Omar, as well as two Indonesians – Rajasa Abdurachman and Badai Sakti Daniel as being complicit.
In November, TH filed two police reports against Ismee, its former chairman Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahman, and several other senior management officers for alleged financial misconduct. Azeez denied the allegations.
Launched in 1963, the 55-year-old Islamic fund was set up to manage the Muslim community’s savings for hajj pilgrimage that is free from interest in the form of usury that is frowned upon under Islamic law.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government recently unveiled a plan to rescue TH, once seen as a model pilgrim fund management system among predominantly Muslim nations. The plan calls for the Ministry of Finance to take over nearly $5 billion (20.9 billion ringgit) of the underperforming assets of the fund starting in January.
The government reported that the fund had been providing dividends to depositors even though it was reeling from a deficit, underscoring financial mismanagement during the administration of Mahathir’s predecessor as prime minister, Najib Razak.