Malaysia’s former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin was charged Friday with abusing his power to obtain bribes and money laundering linked to the alleged misuse of a COVID economic recovery fund.
Muhyiddin was prime minister for 17 months between 2020 and 2021, at the height of Malaysia’s battle against the coronavirus, and now leads an opposition coalition against Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government.He is the second former prime minister to be charged with corruption after ex-leader Najib Razak, who is currently serving a 12-year jail term for his role in a financial scandal at state investment fund 1MDB.
Muhyiddin, 75, was hit with four charges of abusing his position to obtain bribes totalling 232.5 million ringgit ($51.4 million) for his political party Bersatu.
The bribes allegedly came from companies that were given preference for projects financed by the Covid fund.
Each charge carries up to 20 years imprisonment on conviction.
Muhyiddin was also slapped with two charges of money laundering involving 195 million ringgit deposited into Bersatu’s account, according to the charge sheets.
Each of those charges could lead to up to 15 years in jail.
Prosecutors said a third money laundering charge was expected to be filed against him on Monday.
At the Sessions Court on Friday, Muhyiddin pleaded not guilty to all charges and requested a trial.
He was freed on bail but ordered to surrender his passport.
– ‘Justice in court’ –
In a statement, the former prime minister insisted that “not a single cent of the people’s money went into my own pocket during my tenure as prime minister”.
The charges came a day after Muhyiddin was questioned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and later arrested.
He has denied any wrongdoing and accused Anwar’s ruling coalition of political persecution to discredit him and his party ahead of state elections in July.
“My legal team and I will work hard to get justice in court,” he said, urging supporters not to resort to street protests.
Anwar has denied any interference in the judicial process.
The MACC launched a probe into the alleged misuse of pandemic funds by Bersatu and froze the party’s bank accounts last month.
Two Bersatu leaders have also been charged with bribery related to the stimulus programme.
Muhyiddin rose to prominence during the tenure of former prime minister Najib, who still faces dozens more corruption charges.
He fell out with Najib in 2015, when he was sacked after criticising the government over the 1MDB scandal.
Muhyiddin later joined a party set up by former premier Mahathir Mohamad and helped to oust Najib and his party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
Then, in a volte-face typical of Malaysia’s turbulent politics, he joined hands with UMNO again to win enough support to become premier.