PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s former 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 in 2018 general elections 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 several charges Friday related to alleged abuse and money laundering linked to government projects awarded under his 17-month 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.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who took power after November’s general elections, had ordered a review of government projects approved by past administrations that allegedly did not follow the rules. He has denied the case against Muhyiddin was 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 cited 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.
Muhyiddin, who leads a strong Islamic-dominated opposition, has denied any wrongdoing and accused Anwar’s government of trying to crush the opposition ahead of state elections.
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.
Bersatu leaders accused Anwar’s government of political persecution to tarnish the opposition. Muhyiddin, 75, got out of his car and prayed with his supporters before entering the building.
Anwar and Muhyiddin battled for the premiership after November general elections 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.