Court drops corruption charges against Malaysia’s deputy PM

Noah Lee & Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
Court drops corruption charges against Malaysia’s deputy PM Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi waves to supporters after the Kuala Lumpur High Court dismissed 47 charges of corruption against him, Sept. 4, 2023.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

A Malaysian court on Monday dropped 47 graft charges against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi linked to alleged misuse of millions of dollars at a charity he founded to fight poverty.

The prosecution itself requested the move, requesting more time to investigate the case, Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Collin Lawrence Sequerah said, delivering his decision with a rebuke.

“This court makes an order of discharge not amounting to an acquittal,” he said. Should the prosecution decide to drop charges completely, “much precious judicial time would have been wasted, and a great amount of taxpayers’ money will also have been wasted.” 

The case was one of two lodged against Zahid in the year after his party, UMNO, was voted out of power for the first time in decades amid a massive corruption scandal. But following an inconclusive election in November, UMNO – which had been trounced at the ballot box – joined Anwar Ibrahim’s political coalition, allowing it to form a government.

Activists slammed the dropping of charges, with clean-government group Bersih saying it had brought the reformist, anti-graft credentials of the Anwar government “under serious doubt.”

“Malaysians are sick of seeing this correlation: Those who stay in power forever stay innocent, while those who lose power also lose their innocence,” a Bersih statement said.

“We also wonder if this is prelude to the dropping of all remaining charges against former prime minister Najib Razak?”

‘Down the drain’

Zahid previously served in the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is serving a 12-year sentence for corruption linked to the 1MDB financial scandal.  

Although he did not win a full acquittal on Monday, Zahid told supporters outside the courthouse that “politically motivated accusations against me have ended.”

“Our task in UMNO and BN is to continue this struggle so that the accusations that have been politically motivated can be stopped,” he said, referring to the Barisan Nasional coalition that UMNO anchors. 

The prosecution had already established a “prima facie case” against Zahid, meaning it had presented enough evidence for the case to go to trial, requiring the accused to defend himself.

“An utter waste of public funds in proving a prima facie case and a waste of all the hard work of members of AG's Chambers. An explanation is definitely owed to the public,” Malaysian lawyer and rights activist Ambiga Sreenevasan wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. 

“I hope no [unity government] politician dares to justify this or ever again say they are anti-corruption,” she fumed.

“Here we go ... our trust in the government of today went down the drain, once again...what’s next for the people of Malaysia??!!” X user “Jack Sparrow” said.

‘Political persecution’

In making its request, the prosecution cited a government decision to investigate a memoir by former Attorney General Tommy Thomas, who brought the case against Zahid in 2018, amid claims that his office conducted “selective” prosecution of politicians.

Moreover, a flood of petitions have been filed with the current AG's office and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) claiming that the investigation of Zahid has been rushed, careless and incomplete, the prosecution said.

"Therefore we, the prosecution team, would like to request the judge to stop the proceedings against the accused and that the accused be freed without release until the detailed investigation of this case is carried out by the MACC," lead prosecutor Mohd Dusuki Mokhtar told the court.

Zahid’s defense team had requested the case be completely dropped, saying the charges were baseless. 

A statement signed by his lawyers insisted that he had been a victim of “political persecution” during the reign of Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister, after UMNO was voted out of office.

“In our client's sworn testimony in court that Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia at that time, called our client and gave instructions in a firm tone to our client to dissolve UMNO or to accept any consequences if his instructions were not obeyed.

"The meeting with Tun Mahathir was in June 2018. Our client refused to submit to Mahathir's threats and on 2 July 2018 the client was summoned by MACC for the purpose of investigation and court action. The client was accused on 19 October 2018," said the statement.

In 2018, Zahid was charged with 47 criminal charges involving his foundation, Yayasan Akalbudi, as well as 40 corruption charges involving foreign visa system contracts.

He was acquitted in the visa case in September 2022, although an appeal against that decision is still pending.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.