28 October 2016
Lim Guan Eng is taken away by MACC officers in plain clothes Wednesday. Photo:
Lim Guan Eng is taken away by MACC officers in plain clothes Wednesday. Photo:

Malaysian opposition leader held in graft probe

Malaysia’s anti-graft agency detained an opposition leader amid an investigation into a property purchase, throwing rivals of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition further into disarray after recent election losses and infighting.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) arrested Lim Guan Eng, chief minister of Penang state and secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), his father, Lim Kit Siang, who is the party’s leader, said on Twitter, Bloomberg reported.

Lim Guan Eng was held on two charges of graft, his father said.

The chief minister’s official Facebook page posted videos and pictures of him being taken away by what it said were MACC officials in plain clothes.

The anti-graft agency said in a statement it arrested Lim on instructions from the attorney general and he’d be charged in court Thursday.

Malaysia’s opposition parties are in shambles and have splintered amid policy differences in the aftermath of the last election in 2013.

With one leader already in jail, and Lim facing charges that could potentially put him behind bars, it’s becoming more challenging for the opposition to mount a coherent front against Najib, who has weathered graft allegations of his own and efforts by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to remove him.

Najib has denied wrongdoing and was cleared by the attorney general this year of graft over revelations that US$681 million appeared in his personal bank accounts before the 2013 election.

The money was a donation from the Saudi royal family and most was later returned, the government said.

The opposition won 51 percent of the vote in 2013, though Najib’s coalition gained more seats under the country’s British-style first-past-the-post counting system.

The opposition has since been wracked by infighting and failed to capitalize on the gains made in 2013, while former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who led the alliance against Najib at the polls, was sent to jail again last year for sodomy, a charge he denies.

Opposition parties fielded multiple candidates for some seats in an assembly election last month in Sarawak, the country’s biggest state.

That helped hand the ruling Barisan Nasional grouping a bigger victory, while the DAP had a weaker showing than in 2011.

Opposition parties also fielded multiple candidates in two by-elections for national seats this month, making it easier for Najib’s party to win with a larger majority.

The MACC has been probing Lim’s purchase of a bungalow at what his opponents said was a below-market price.

Lim said in March he bought the house in 2015 for 2.8 million ringgit (US$693,000) from a private individual on a “willing buyer and willing seller basis”.

The MACC said in March it was starting an investigation into the acquisition. It wrapped up that probe last month and submitted the results to the attorney-general.

Lim became Penang’s first chief minister from an opposition party in 36 years after winning in the 2008 general election. He is Malaysia’s only ethnic Chinese state leader.

Penang, the country’s second-smallest state, is one of its largest contributors to gross domestic product and home to foreign electronics companies including Intel Corp.

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