As his son faces a graft probe, a Malaysian ex-PM says the government wants to prosecute its rivals

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad attacked a graft probe into his associates as politically motivated, a week after his eldest son was ordered to hand over information to investigators

Eileen Ng
Monday 22 January 2024 12:25 GMT

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad attacked a graft probe into his associates as politically motivated, a week after his eldest son was ordered to hand over information to investigators.

Mahathir, a two-time prime minister who's been a fixture in Malaysian politics for decades, said Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's government is using corruption charges to go after political rivals.

Mahathir came out of retirement in the wake of the massive 1MDB corruption scandal, joining hands with the opposition in 2018 for a short second term as premier after ousting a long-ruling coalition he once led.

Businessman Mirzan Mahathir and tycoon Daim Zainuddin were revealed to hold millions offshore in the Pandora Papers, a 2021 document leak that revealed offshore accounts held by some of the world's wealthiest people and politicians.

The anti-graft agency ordered Mirzan to declare all his assets within 30 days on Jan. 17. It had earlier opened a probe into Daim, a former Finance Minister and ally of Mahathir. Mirzan has also been accused of shady dealings in relation to the sale and acquisition of a government-linked company.

Mahathir, 98, said he believed Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was fishing for evidence to implicate him, and accused Anwar of selective prosecution.

Prosecutors dropped 47 graft charges against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi last year while the trial was at an advanced stage.

Mahathir also said no action was taken against anti-graft agency chief Azam Baki over a share trading scandal in 2022.

“This is Malaysian justice under Anwar's regime,” Mahathir told a news conference.

“The law is being abused for political ends. I'm saying very clearly that the people who are against the government will have the law thrown in their faces. Those who are for the government can escape,” he said.

Mahathir held office from 1981-2003, and again from 2018-2020. He has a long political history with Anwar, who was his deputy and finance minister in the 1990s before they fell out amid the Asian financial crisis. Anwar was later jailed for corruption and sodomy, charges he said were framed to kill his political career.

The pair joined hands for the 2018 general elections to oust the long-ruling coalition, while Anwar was in jail for a second sodomy charge. He was pardoned by the king shortly after their victory. Mahathir became premier a second time in a deal that called for him later to hand over power to Anwar, but their alliance collapsed amid infighting.

Mahathir now supports the opposition Malay-Islamic alliance, and has constantly slammed Anwar's unity government, took power in November 2022.

The anti-graft agency has said it began investigations in August 2022 — before Anwar took power — into all entities and related assets named in the Pandora Papers and the Panama Papers, a giant leak of financial records in 2016 that showed how some of the world's richest people hide their money.

It said it has questioned 10 people so far, including Mirzan and Daim, and recently seized a building belonging to Daim. Last week, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said that new leaked documents it obtained showed that Daim's family members were beneficiaries of a multimillion-dollar trust with investments in U.K. and U.S. real estate

Daim and his family say their offshore assets were a result of legitimate business activities and investments, and have taken legal steps to challenge the graft probe, which they call unconstitutional.

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