Influential Malaysian opposition politician accused of graft

AP News
Posted: Jun 29, 2016 9:55 AM
Influential Malaysian opposition politician accused of graft

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — An influential Malaysian opposition politician who has strongly criticized financial scandals involving Prime Minister Najib Razak was arrested Wednesday on allegations of corruption.

The arrest of Lim Guan Eng, chief minister of northern Penang state, is likely to provoke accusations of a witch hunt by the government, which itself faces allegations of massive corruption in a multibillion-dollar scandal involving a state investment fund.

Lim has led Penang, one of three states run by the opposition, since 2008. His father, Lim Kit Siang, said Lim is expected to be charged Thursday with two counts of graft, including allegedly purchasing a house in Penang at below market value.

The anti-corruption agency said in a statement that a businesswoman, Phang Li Khoon, who sold the house to Lim has also been detained and that both will face charges in court.

Opposition leaders slammed Lim's arrest as a double standard, noting that no one has been charged over the billions of dollars missing from state investment fund 1MDB.

Opposition lawmaker Charles Santiago said the arrest is an "act of intimidation and abuse." Another lawmaker, Tian Chua, said it could be a "prelude to an all-out assault on the entire opposition."

Lim's party is part of a three-member opposition alliance.

Lim has a record of clean government in Penang, introducing open tenders for contracts and publicly declaring his personal assets. He bought the house for 2.8 million ringgit ($700,000) and said it was an open transaction between a willing buyer and a willing seller. Ruling party lawmakers have said the house is worth more than double that amount, and the anti-graft agency has been probing the sale since early this year.

Prime Minister Najib has been grappling with accusations of corruption and mismanagement over allegations that nearly $700 million was channeled into his personal bank accounts from 1MDB.

Under pressure to resign, Najib has denied the money came from the fund. The government cleared him in January, saying the money was a donation from the Saudi royal family and that Najib had returned most of it. The explanation was met with widespread skepticism.

1MDB, which Najib started in 2009, is mired in debt and is being investigated in several countries over alleged embezzlement. A Malaysian parliamentary inquiry also recently found massive unexplained payments and called for a police investigation of the fund's former head.