Malaysia has dropped a multimillion-dollar corruption case against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who was facing 47 charges of criminal breach of trust, bribery and money laundering. The decision, which was made at the prosecution’s request, has raised questions over the government’s commitment to fighting graft and the influence of political pressure.
Ahmad Zahid, who is also the leader of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), a key partner in the ruling coalition, was accused of misusing $27 million of funds from a charity he founded to eradicate poverty. He had pleaded not guilty and claimed that the charges were politically motivated.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court granted Ahmad Zahid a discharge not amounting to an acquittal on Monday, September 4, 2023, after the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) said it needed more time to investigate the case. A discharge not amounting to an acquittal means that the prosecution can revive the charges at a later date if it wants.
The AGC did not give any further explanation for its request, which came as a surprise as the court had already ruled in January 2022 that there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed and had ordered Ahmad Zahid to enter his defence. The prosecution had called 99 witnesses and 15 witnesses had appeared for Ahmad Zahid’s defence.
Ahmad Zahid’s lawyer said he would appeal for a full acquittal, while Ahmad Zahid expressed his gratitude to the court and his supporters. He also said he would continue to serve as deputy prime minister and UMNO president.
The case against Ahmad Zahid was one of the high-profile corruption cases that emerged after UMNO lost power for the first time in Malaysia’s history in 2018, following widespread anger over the 1MDB scandal that implicated former Prime Minister Najib Razak. Najib is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for graft linked to 1MDB and faces more bribery charges.
However, UMNO regained its influence after Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim formed a coalition with it and other parties to secure a parliamentary majority in last year’s election. Anwar, who had campaigned on a platform of tackling corruption, appointed Ahmad Zahid as his deputy despite the pending charges against him.
Anwar has said he would not interfere in the court process and that he respects the independence of the judiciary. However, some critics have accused him of compromising on his anti-corruption stance and succumbing to political pressure from UMNO, which has threatened to withdraw its support from the government if its leaders are not treated fairly.
The decision to drop the case against Ahmad Zahid has also sparked public outrage and disappointment among those who had hoped for justice and accountability. Some have questioned the credibility and integrity of the AGC and the judiciary, while others have called for reforms and transparency in the legal system.
The corruption case against Ahmad Zahid was seen as a test of Malaysia’s commitment to fighting graft and upholding the rule of law. The outcome of the case may have implications for other corruption cases involving UMNO leaders and members, as well as for Malaysia’s political stability and reputation.