Malaysian opposition figure says arrested for breaching bank law

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 01, 2012 1:54 AM
Malaysian opposition figure says arrested for breaching bank law

By Siva Sithraputhran

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A senior Malaysian opposition politician, who made a series of revelations on alleged government wrongdoing, was arrested on Wednesday for disclosing bank details related to a high-profile corruption case involving the family of a former minister.

The arrest of Rafizi Ramli, head of strategy for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat party, adds to a tense political atmosphere ahead of elections that must be held by early next year and which are expected to be closely fought.

"I've been arrested under BAFIA and am on the way to the police station and will be charged in the Shah Alam court," Rafizi said on Twitter early on Wednesday, referring to the Banking and Financial Services Act.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges, which could carry a jail term of three years, and was released on bail ahead of a court hearing set for September 10, party officials said.

Police could not be reached for comment.

Rafizi is a senior member of the main opposition party led by Anwar Ibrahim, who himself is facing public order charges over a protest march this year that could disqualify him from parliament.

The charges against Rafizi are related to his revelations of alleged financial impropriety at National Feedlot Corporation, a publicly funded cattle-rearing project, which is suspected to have enriched the family of former Women, Families and Communities Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.

She resigned from her post and Malaysia's anti-corruption agency later cleared her of wrongdoing but the assets of the company remain frozen and her husband has been charged with criminal breach of trust.

Malaysia's central bank had earlier investigated Rafizi for disclosing banking details of the company and its directors.

Rafizi has also brought to media attention alleged irregularities in the award of a 960 million ringgit ($310 million) contract to a consortium led by George Kent (M) Berhad to extend a rail transit project.

The consortium beat contenders including Balfour Petty PLC despite not being the lowest bidder.

The suggestions of irregularities are believed to be among the reasons why Prime Minister Najib Razak has put off the election, which many pundits had predicted he would call earlier in 2012.

Najib is trying to revive the fortunes of the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition after it got a bloody nose in 2008 elections, slumping to its worst-ever performance and losing its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time.

News of Rafizi's arrest spread quickly on social media networks and drew expressions of support for him, with many people condemning the authorities for arresting the "whistleblower" while not going after those accused of corruption.

"The nation is watching! We stand by those brave enough to expose wrongdoing and condemn those who suppress the truth," Ambiga Sreenevasan, the head of a popular election rights group and a prominent critic of the government, said on Twitter.

(Editing by Stuart Grudgings)