Malaysia ex-PM Muhyiddin faces graft charges, vows to fight

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Malaysia's former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin arrives at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarter in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, March 9, 2023. The former Malaysian Prime Minister arrived Thursday at the anti-graft agency office for a second time in a matter of weeks over alleged corruption in the awarding of government projects under his rule. (AP Photo/FL Wong)

PUTRAJAYA – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was arrested Thursday and will be brought to court to face corruption charges, the anti-graft agency said.

Muhyiddin, who led Malaysia from March 2020 until August 2021, will be the country's second leader to be indicted after leaving office. Ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak was hit with multiple graft charges after he lost a 2018 general election and began a 12-year prison term in August after losing his final appeal in the first of several trials.

The anti-graft agency said Muhyiddin, 75, will face charges Friday related to alleged abuse and money laundering linked to government projects awarded under his rule. It said Muhyiddin was detained shortly after he arrived at the agency for the second time in three weeks to answer questions about an economic stimulus program for ethnic Malay contractors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Muhyiddin was released on bail later Thursday and denied any wrongdoing. He told reporters he faces seven graft charges, calling it a "malicious political act” by current Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's government to crush the Islamic-dominated opposition coalition Muhyiddin leads ahead of state elections. He said he never met the contractors who won the projects and did not receive any money from them.

"The purpose is to embarrass me by dragging me to court tomorrow," Muhyiddin said. “I affirm that I am innocent and that I will answer all the charges against me in court."

Anwar in December ordered a review of government projects approved by past administrations that allegedly did not follow the rules. He has denied that the case against Muhyiddin is politically motivated, telling local media the investigation was independently carried out by the anti-graft agency.

“If you said all cases are politically motivated, then how are we going to arrest people for big corruption cases?” Anwar was quoted as saying by the Malay Mail, an online news portal.

Two senior leaders from Muhyiddin's Bersatu party were also recently charged with graft. The anti-graft agency froze Bersatu's bank accounts amid investigations into alleged illegal proceedings.

Earlier Thursday, a large crowd of supporters gathered outside the anti-graft agency building, chanting “Fight! Fight!” and “Allahu Akbar (God is great)” amid speculation that Muhyiddin would be arrested and charged.

Apart from the award of government contracts, Muhyiddin said the charges against him include abuse of power for supporting a tax cancellation appeal by a business tycoon. He said any contributions from the tycoon to Bersatu were political funds channeled straight into the party's account, not his personal bank account, and should not be considered a bribe.

He said the charges were an attempt to thwart his opposition coalition's strong support, especially from the country's majority ethnic Malays. He warned that Anwar's government “will be punished by the people" in the state elections.

Anwar and Muhyiddin battled for the premiership after a November general election produced a hung parliament. The country’s king later appointed Anwar as prime minister after he formed a unity government with several smaller parties. Anwar’s strength will be put to test in elections in six states in the coming months.