Malaysian ex-PM Muhyiddin hit with seventh graft charge

Malaysia's former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin poses for media outside courthouse, after charged with corruption and money laundering, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, March 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Former Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin pleaded innocent Monday to a seventh corruption charge, this one alleging he received illegal proceeds of 5 million ringgit ($1.1 million) that was banked into his political party.

Muhyiddin is Malaysia’s second leader to be indicted after leaving office and has denied wrongdoing. He slammed the case as “organized political persecution” to embarrass him and crush his Islamic-dominated opposition ahead of state elections. He denied abusing his power to award contracts to selected ethnic Malay contractors in return for bribes, and to approve an appeal by a business tycoon on the cancellation of his tax exemption.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim rejected accusations that the charges were politically motivated. The anti-graft agency and the attorney-general’s chambers, whose chiefs were previously appointed by Muhyiddin, have denied there was political interference in the investigation and prosecution process.

On Friday, Muhyiddin pleaded innocent to four charges of abusing his power to obtain 232.5 million ringgit ($51.4 million) bribes for his party and two charges of money laundering involving 195 million ringgit ($43 million).

After taking power in November, Anwar ordered a review of government projects approved by past administrations including Muhyiddin, who led Malaysia from March 2020 until August 2021. Anwar has said many of the projects awarded were overpriced and given without tender.

Anwar and Muhyiddin had fought for the premiership after the November general elections produced a hung parliament. Muhyiddin’s alliance includes a conservative Islamist party that won stronger-than-expected support from Malays, who account for about two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people. The king later appointed 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.

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. Najib began a 12-year prison 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.

Two senior members from Muhyiddin’s Bersatu party were recently charged with graft. The anti-graft agency has also frozen Bersatu’s party accounts.

If Muhyiddin, 75, 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.