Malaysia ex-finance minister charged amid widening graft crackdown

By Reuters   January 29, 2024 | 05:58 pm PT
Malaysia ex-finance minister charged amid widening graft crackdown
Former Malaysian Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin on wheelchair speaks to media at the courthouse in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. Photo by AP
Malaysia's former Minister of Finance Daim Zainuddin on Monday pleaded not guilty to failing to disclose assets under anti-corruption law, in one of the highest-profile cases in a crackdown on graft involving prominent figures.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has vowed to tackle corruption, though critics have accused him of using the anti-graft agency to target political rivals - accusations he has denied.

Daim, 85, an ally of veteran leader and Anwar's long-time foe Mahathir Mohamad, is among figures being investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) on suspicion of holding wealth in excess of that declared.

Daim's wife, Na'imah Abdul Khalid, was charged last week for failing to disclose assets, while the MACC has asked Mahathir's businessmen sons Mirzan and Mokhzani to declare their wealth.

Representatives for Mahathir's family did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment, though the former premier has called the probes politically motivated.

Anwar's predecessor as prime minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, was also questioned by the agency this month as part of a probe into possible misconduct involving government publicity funds.

Daim, who served as finance minister from 1984 to 1991 and from 1999 to 2001, entered court on Monday in a wheelchair and was granted bail after his lawyer cited health issues.

He was charged with failing to declare assets involving 38 companies, 25 properties and several luxury vehicles. The charge carries a maximum jail term of five years and a fine of up to 100,000 ringgit ($21,160).

The agency's probe into Daim included seizing the 60-storey Ilham Tower in Kuala Lumpur last month.

In a statement issued after the court proceedings, Daim said Anwar's administration was "abusing its powers, while betraying all the promises of reform"."Anwar should know that all this is not without repercussions. As he busies himself pursuing vendettas of the past, the ringgit continues in a free fall, the economy stagnates, while the sufferings of ordinary Malaysians are ignored," Daim said.

"I am not too bothered about my fate now, let Anwar throw everything at me. But I fear for the fate of my country."

His case will be heard next on March 22.

Anwar's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The premier has repeatedly maintained he does not interfere in corruption investigations.

Daim was finance minister during the premiership of Mahathir. Anwar and Mahathir have been locked in a decades-long off-on rivalry that saw Anwar, a one-time protege of Mahathir, jailed for sodomy and corruption - charges he said were politically motivated.

Anwar was pardoned and became prime minister in 2022 after more than two decades as an opposition leader, vowing to combat corruption and focus on the economy.

But a string of dropped corruption cases involving figures allied to Anwar's coalition has raised questions over his commitment to fighting graft, with lawmakers and analysts saying that dropping the cases risked alienating voters and jeopardizing his reform agenda.

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