MALAYSIA — On Friday (10 March), Malaysia’s former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin was charged with accepting bribes and money laundering linked to the alleged misuse of a Covid economic recovery fund.

The BERSATU president was hit with four charges of using his position to obtain bribes totalling 232.5 million ringgit ($51.4 million) for his political party BERSATU before Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court judge Azura Alwi.

The bribes allegedly came from companies that were given preference for projects financed by the Covid fund. Each charge carries up to 20 years imprisonment on conviction.

Muhyiddin was also slapped with two charges of money laundering involving 195 million ringgit deposited into his party account, according to the charge sheets.

Each of those charges could lead to up to 15 years in jail.

Muhyiddin, who is also opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman, pleaded not guilty during the court hearing, where he was granted bail of RM2 million and ordered to surrender his passport.

Muhyiddin is the second former Malaysian Prime Minister, after Najib Razak, to be accused and put on trial for allegedly soliciting bribes and embezzling public funds.

The abuse of power charges were framed under Section 23 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009, while the money laundering charges were brought under the Section 4(1)(b) of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (Amla).

Section 4(1)(b) of the Amla refers to the offence of “acquiring, receiving, possessing, disguising, transferring, converting, exchanging, carrying, disposing or using the proceeds of an unlawful activity”.

The 75-year-old Member of Parliament for Pagoh is accused of committing the four abuse of power offenses at the Prime Minister’s Office in Putrajaya between 8 February and 20 August 2021.

The first count alleges that he used his office to obtain a RM200,000 bribe from Bukhary Equity Sdn Bhd for BERSATU, while the second count accuses him of receiving RM1 million for his party from Nepturis Sdn Bhd.

The third charge alleges that he received RM19.5 million from Mamfor Sdn Bhd, and the final count accuses him of accepting RM12 million from businessman Azman Yusoff.

If convicted, he could face up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of not less than five times the value of the gratification received under the said offence, where such gratification is capable of being valued or is of a pecuniary nature, or RM10,000, whichever is the higher.

For the first money laundering charge, Muhyiddin allegedly received RM120 million on the first count of money laundering from Bukhary Equity, which was deposited into BERSATU’s bank account in CIMB.

On the second count, he is accused of accepting RM75 million, also from Bukhary Equity, which was deposited into the same account.

From Najib right-hand man to Malaysia’s 8th PM

From 2009 to 2015, Muhyiddin served as Najib Razak’s right hand man, but was terminated from his position in 2015 after criticizing the government’s handling of the 1MDB scandal.

He then joined a party established by former premier Mahathir Mohamad and helped to overthrow Najib and his party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

Following the “Sheraton Move” in 2020, Muhyiddin led BERSATU departed from the Pakatan Harapan(PH) coalition and joinED forces with Barisan Nasional (BN) and PAS to form a new government coalition, which appointed him as 8th Prime Minister.

Muhyiddin held the position for 17 months, from 2020 to 2021, during which his government introduced the Jana Wibawa program as a Covid-19 stimulus measure to assist Bumiputera contractors.

Incumbent Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim accused the government of improperly disbursing billions of dollars in Covid relief funds.

On Thursday, Muhyiddin was briefly detained after anti-graft authorities interrogated him for alleged misuse of public funds intended to combat COVID-19.

Muhyiddin denied the allegations, calling it an attempt to silence the opposition by the new unity government.

Earlier,  Datuk Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the information chief of BERSATU, has been charged with accepting nearly RM7 million (US$1.5 million) in bribes related to the Jana Wibawa programme, which was established during the Covid-19 pandemic to assist bumiputra contractors.

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