by M Jegathesan
PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA — Malaysia’s former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin was arrested briefly on Thursday after anti-graft authorities questioned him for alleged misuse of public funds meant to fight COVID-19.
Muhyiddin, who was prime minister for 17 months between 2020 and 2021, at the height of Malaysia’s battle against the coronavirus, is expected to be slapped with multiple charges in court on Friday, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said in a statement.
He now leads an opposition coalition against Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government after failing to muster enough support to return to power following general elections in November last year.
Muhyiddin, 75, visited the MACC office earlier Thursday, a day after he was summoned by the body.
The agency later said Muhyiddin was arrested and will be held overnight pending the filing of the charges. He was then let off on bail.
He was questioned as part of an investigation into irregularities relating to an economic stimulus package — introduced by Muhyiddin when he was prime minister — to help the country recover from the effects of the pandemic “and related matters”, MACC said.
The former leader will face “a number of charges” relating to violation of laws against corruption and money laundering, the statement said.
He could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted but is likely to be out on bail while the case is being heard.
The MACC had earlier launched a probe into the alleged misuse of pandemic funds by Bersatu, his political party.
It froze Bersatu’s bank accounts last month, and two leaders of the party have been charged with bribery related to the stimulus programme.
Muhyiddin has denied any wrongdoing and his supporters say the probe is meant to discredit Bersatu ahead of state elections in July.
About 100 supporters gathered outside the MACC building and shouted their support for Muhyiddin as he arrived earlier in the day.
“The summoning of Muhyiddin is political harassment,” Bersatu senior member Baba Deni told AFP.
“The idea is to tarnish his image as he is the president of Bersatu. It is also to sabotage the party’s popularity among young voters.”
Premier Anwar, who denied interfering in the investigations, has alleged that billions of dollars in Covid relief funds were disbursed without proper procedure while Muhyiddin was in office.
Muhyiddin rose to prominence during the tenure of former prime minister Najib Razak, who is now serving a 12-year jail term for corruption linked to the plunder of state investment firm 1MDB.
He fell out with Najib in 2015, when he was sacked after criticising the government over the 1MDB scandal.
Muhyiddin later joined a party set up by former premier Mahathir Mohamad and helped to oust Najib and his party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
Then in a volte-face typical of Malaysia’s turbulent politics, he joined hands with UMNO again to win enough support to become premier.