KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian prosecutors on Tuesday dropped 46 corruption charges against a former state leader, the second high-profile graft case to be dismissed since a new government took over in March.
Musa Aman, ex-chief minister of Sabah state on Borneo island, was among several senior politicians from the United Malays National Organization charged with corruption after the party’s shocking defeat in 2018 elections. The party became part of a new alliance government that took over in March amid political maneuvering.
Musa, who insists the charges against him were politically motivated, said justice had prevailed. He said he was grateful to have been vindicated of the 30 corruption charges and 16 money laundering charges relating to timber concessions in Sabah.
“What has happened to me and my family, even if it was the result of political differences, I take it as a test from God,” he said in a statement.
Opposition lawmakers said the move by prosecutors to dismiss the charges against Musa was baffling and disappointing. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said it “shows just how low new Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his unelected government are prepared to stoop to hold on to power.”
“Under Muhyiddin, Malaysia is rapidly shooting from first to back among the worst when it comes to respecting human rights and good governance,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the rights group.
Attorney General Idrus Harun, who was appointed by Muhyiddin, defended his decision. He said in a statement that documentary evidence from the companies and banks allegedly involved couldn’t be obtained.
Some prosecution witnesses had also either “passed away, suffered serious medical ailments or are not in Malaysia anymore,” he added.
Musa’s acquittal came less than a month after prosecutors dropped money laundering charges against “The Wolf of Wall Street” film producer Riza Aziz in a settlement that critics slammed as a “sweetheart” deal for him. Riza is the stepson of former UMNO leader and ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, who faces multiple corruption charges along with his wife.
The ruling alliance that ousted Najib collapsed in late February, with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigning in protest over his party’s forming of a Malay-centric government with several other parties.
The king subsequently appointed fellow party leader Muhyiddin Yassin as the new prime minister despite Mahathir’s insistence that he has the support of a majority of lawmakers. Mahathir, 94, has called for a no-confidence vote against Muhyiddin that has been delayed by the coronavirus, and could be held at the next sitting of Parliament in July.
Amer Hamzah Arshad, a lawyer for Musa, said the move by prosecutors comes after the defense filed a suit in February to strike out the charges, which he called a “political persecution” of Musa.
He said Musa had been cleared of the allegations by corruption agencies in Malaysia and Hong Kong in 2012, with investigations showing that the funds were political donations. Musa was accused of receiving $50.1 million as a bribe to approve logging concessions for 16 companies, as well as receiving and using proceeds from illegal activities.
Prosecutors didn’t give any reasons for their move and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.