Malaysian prosecutors charged a prominent ruling party politician with corruption yesterday over a murky land deal that enabled him to build a personal Balinese-style mansion.
The charge was a sign that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak wants to prove that his administration is serious about curbing graft ahead of national elections that some believe will be called next year.
Mohamad Khir Toyo, the former chief minister of Malaysia’s central Selangor State, pleaded innocent in a district court to a charge of inappropriately obtaining land worth an estimated 3.5 million ringgit (US$1 million) in 2007. He faces up to two years in prison if convicted.
Opposition leaders have long complained that the government’s anti-corruption watchdog rarely prosecutes senior officials. Trials involving prominent personalities for bribery, fraud and other corruption-related crimes in recent years have generally ended in acquittals.
Lim Kit-siang, a top opposition member of Parliament, questioned whether the charge against Mohamad Khir was “serious or just pre-general election drama.”
Khir, a 45-year-old dentist turned politician, has said he obtained a bank loan to purchase the property while he was chief minister of Selangor, one of Malaysia’s wealthiest states.
He was jointly charged with a businessman who allegedly purchased the land for 6.5 million ringgit in 2004 and provided it to Khir for nearly half the price three years later.
Under Malaysian law, it is illegal for a public servant to accept anything in a business transaction for a sum that he or she knows is inadequate.
The court allowed him to be freed on bail and prosecutors have applied for the case to be transferred to a higher court for subsequent hearings.
Mohamad Khir led Selangor for eight years until 2008, when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s three-party alliance wrested control of the state and several other states in general elections.
He is currently the ruling national coalition’s top official in the Selangor State legislature.
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