Malaysia Freezes Opposition Party’s Accounts in Graft Probe

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(Bloomberg) -- Malaysian anti-graft authorities have frozen the bank accounts of an opposition party led by former premier Muhyiddin Yassin amid an investigation that the pro-Malay group said was an attempt to destroy its credibility.

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The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s probe involves some 300 million ringgit ($70.7 million) found in Bersatu party’s accounts, according to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

“If these party leaders are as clean as they say they are, they must explain to investigators why, in such a short time, they were able to amass that much money,” Anwar said in a televised briefing on Thursday. Bersatu was founded in 2016 and had been part of the government from 2018 to 2022.

The investigation is a blow for Bersatu and the wider Perikatan Nasional coalition it leads as it prepares to take on Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan alliance in six state elections due this year. The conservative Perikatan Nasional aims to build on the surprise gains it made in the general election, where it came in second to Pakatan Harapan.

While the local polls would have no direct bearing on the balance of power in parliament, they will be a measure of the new government’s popularity among the public. Anwar is mulling working with rival-turned-ally Barisan Nasional to win the polls and strengthen his position in a country’s that’s seen four prime ministers in four years.

The investigation into Bersatu is being carried out under the MACC Act and the Anti-money Laundering, Anti-terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act, local media reported yesterday, citing MACC Chief Azam Baki. The accounts were frozen two weeks ago and the probe is still at an early stage, he added.

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Bersatu will cooperate in MACC’s probe in order to quickly put an end to the “slander” thrown its way, the party’s Secretary-General Hamzah Zainudin said in a statement late Wednesday.

“Bersatu expresses its regret on the move by the PH-BN government to use government agencies as a tool to achieve its political goal of destroying Bersatu and Perikatan Nasional’s credibility,” Hamzah said.

Anwar on Thursday said Malaysia’s investigative agencies and judiciary remained independent, and that it was irresponsible of the opposition to accuse the government of interfering. No one is immune from investigations, he added.

Shortly after taking office, Anwar had said “tens of billions of ringgit” in Covid-19 relief during Muhyiddin’s time as premier was allocated without due procedure. Muhyiddin, who was prime minister from March 2020 to August 2021, has denied any wrongdoing. He and Anwar fought a tight election race in November that resulted in a hung parliament.

--With assistance from Kok Leong Chan.

(Updates with details throughout from Anwar Ibrahim’s briefing.)

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