Malaysia Sidelines Officials Accused of Ignoring Graft

Malaysia Sidelines Officials Accused of Ignoring Graft

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Monday that more changes in the government would be coming, but would take time. “I can’t just suspend any officer as I like,” he said.CreditAndy Wong/Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian officials accused of covering up a large corruption scandal stepped down or were placed on leave Monday as Malaysia’s leadership continued to be upended by the defeat of the governing coalition last week.

Mahathir Mohamad, the new prime minister, said Monday afternoon that the attorney general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, had been placed on leave.

Mr. Apandi, who was named attorney general three years ago, cleared the previous prime minister, Najib Razak, of any wrongdoing in connection with the misappropriation of billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a government fund known as 1MDB.

He was among the most prominent officials supporting Mr. Najib’s assertion of innocence, and he may now face an investigation for what critics contend was a cover-up.

Mr. Apandi showed up for work on Monday even though Mr. Mahathir said last week that the attorney general had been removed from office. He acknowledged in a text message that he had gone to work but declined to comment on his situation.

Mohammad Irwan Serigar bin Abdullah, secretary general of the Malaysian Treasury and chairman of 1MDB, was also relieved of his duties on Monday.

Mr. Mahathir also said he hoped that a new leader of Malaysia’s anti-corruption commission would be announced by Tuesday. The previous commission chief, Dzulkifli Ahmad, offered his resignation on Monday, according to reports in Malaysian news outlets. He did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Last year, Mr. Dzulkifli said the anticorruption commission would not reopen an investigation into 1MDB, even after a United States Justice Department complaint outlined how huge sums were diverted from the fund and spent by associates of former Prime Minister Najib Razak. An assets-seizure lawsuit filed by the Justice Department said that $731 million had been deposited into Mr. Najib’s accounts.

On Saturday, the government announced that Mr. Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, were barred from leaving the country amid concerns that they were planning to leave for Indonesia. On Monday, a bodyguard at their home said they remained inside, though the number of visitors as well as staff members had dwindled.

Mr. Mahathir suggested on Monday that more officials would be removed. “I have to get proper information, proper reports before I can act,” he said. “I can’t just suspend any officer as I like. I want to do things according to the rules and the procedures.”

Mr. Mahathir was prime minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. Mr. Najib had been his protégé, but Mr. Mahathir later said that supporting him had been the “biggest mistake that I have made in my life.”

A former anti-corruption chief has already submitted two reports that he said contained evidence of Mr. Najib’s wrongdoings.

While Mr. Najib’s freedoms may be narrowing, another former protégé of Mr. Mahathir, Anwar Ibrahim, could soon be released from prison. He is serving a five-year sentence on a sodomy conviction.

Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali, who had cleared the former prime minister of wrongdoing in a corruption investigation, was suspended on Monday.CreditEPA, via Shutterstock

He served a previous prison sentence for sodomy and corruption, after falling out with Mr. Mahathir in 1998. The cases against him have widely been seen as politically motivated.

Mr. Anwar was scheduled to be released in June but he could be freed as early as this week with a pardon from Malaysia’s king, Sultan Muhammad V.

The parole board is scheduled to meet Wednesday and is expected to recommend a pardon for Mr. Anwar, a required step in the process.

Nurul Izzah Anwar, Mr. Anwar’s daughter and a member of Parliament, said that the board was expected to rule that there had been a miscarriage of justice and that her father was innocent.

The king’s pardon would allow Mr. Anwar to participate in politics again, lifting a five-year ban on political activity that he would have faced based on his release under normal circumstances.

Mr. Anwar is expected to replace the 92-year-old Mr. Mahathir as prime minister at some point. Mr. Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, is the deputy prime minister and has long said that her goal was to win his freedom.

The pardon process can take many months. An immediate pardon, which was agreed on last week in meetings between the king, Mr. Mahathir and Ms. Wan Azizah, according to the new prime minister, would accelerate the potential timetable for Mr. Anwar to take over from Mr. Mahathir.

But there are still some hurdles. To become prime minister, Mr. Anwar must win a seat in Parliament. And for a new election to be held, someone must leave office to create a vacancy.

Ms. Nurul Izzah said that there was no rivalry between the two leaders, who were once allies and then foes before becoming allies again.

“He has given his unequivocal support to the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, and the reform agenda,” she said of Mr. Anwar.

The days since the election have seen other dramatic turnabouts as the country adjusts to the end of decades of control by the former governing party.

Tony Fernandes, chief executive of the budget airline AirAsia and one of Malaysia’s most prominent businessmen, apologized on Sunday for supporting Mr. Najib.

Before the election, Mr. Fernandes appeared in a video praising the government and Mr. Najib, who appeared in an AirAsia jet that had been painted with the slogan of the former governing coalition: “Make My Country Greater.”

“I’m sorry for what has gone on,” Mr. Fernandes said in video posted Sunday on his Facebook account. “I buckled at a crucial moment in our history.”

He said that he had been under pressure after the head of AirAsia’s long-haul arm grew increasingly outspoken in supporting Mr. Mahathir’s coalition. And the addition of flights to allow Malaysians to return home to vote also angered the previous government, he said.

Sharon Tan contributed reporting.



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