Former Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was charged Friday, March 10, 2023, with corruption and money laundering, making him Malaysia’s second ex-leader to be indicted after leaving office.
Mr. Muhyiddin, 75, pleaded innocent to four charges of abusing his power to obtain 232.5 million ringgit (USD 51.4 million) bribes for his party and two charges of money laundering involving 195 million ringgit (USD 43 million). He has been released on bail.
Mr. Muhyiddin was arrested Thursday by the anti-graft agency, which questioned him over government stimulus projects to ethnic Malay contractors during the COVID-19 pandemic. He then slammed the charges against him as political persecution to crush his opposition alliance ahead of state elections. Outside the court building Friday, some supporters carried banners which read “malicious intent.”
Charges politically motivated: Anwar Ibrahim
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim rejected accusations that the charges were politically motivated and noted the investigations were carried out independently by the anti-graft agency. After taking power in November, Anwar ordered a review of government projects approved by past administrations including Mr. Muhyiddin, who led Malaysia from March 2020 until August 2021.
Two senior members from Mr. Muhyiddin’s Bersatu party were recently charged with graft. The anti-graft agency has also frozen Bersatu’s party accounts.
Mr. Muhyiddin said Thursday that the charges were to embarrass him and cripple his Islamic-dominated alliance, which has strong support among ethnic Malays who account for about two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people.
Both Mr. Anwar and Mr. Muhyiddin has fought for the premiership after November general elections produced a hung parliament. The king later appointed Mr. Anwar as premier after he formed a unity government with several smaller parties, but his strength will be tested in six state elections due in the next few months.
Mr. Muhyiddin was the second former leader to be charged after ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was hit with multiple charges after he lost in 2018 general elections. Mr. Najib began a 12-year jail term in August after losing his final appeal in the first of several graft trials related to the looting of the 1MDB state development fund.
If Mr. Muhyiddin is found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in prison for each of the corruption charges, 15 years each for money laundering and fines.