The former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin was detained by Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency on Thursday and informed that he would be charged with several counts of corruption. His supporters claimed that this was a retaliatory action meant to damage him politically.
In Malaysia, which has had four prime ministers since 2018, the arrest comes just three months after Muhyiddin lost a hotly contested general election to Anwar Ibrahim.
Muhyuddin will be charged under laws related to abuse of power and money laundering in a Kuala Lumpur court on Friday over an economic recovery project launched by his government, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said.
Muhyiddin has previously denied accusations of wrongdoing in government projects, describing them as a political vendetta.
His arrest comes ahead of regional elections to be held in six states by mid-year, with his coalition expected to pose a strong challenge to Anwar’s alliance.
Prime minister for 17 months between 2020 and 2021, Muhyuddin is the second Malaysian leader to be charged with crimes after losing power. In 2018, Najib Razak faced multiple graft allegations over the multi-billion dollar corruption scandal at state fund 1MDB and has been since been jailed.
Malaysian politics has been in a flux since Najib lost elections in 2018, bringing to an end an uninterrupted rule by the UMNO party that had governed for more than 60 years since independence.
Anwar himself served jail time for corruption and sodomy before he became prime minister, charges he insists were politically motivated to keep him from power.
Muhyiddin and his party have faced graft investigations since losing the national election in November, with the party’s bank accounts frozen by the anti-graft body and two leaders charged with bribery over the economic project.
One of those, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, said the Anwar government was aiming to cripple the opposition with the crackdown.
“Anwar is no reformist. He is merely an old vengeful opportunist,” Wan Saiful said in a Facebook post.
Anwar’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier on Thursday he said he has not interfered in graft investigations involving Muhyiddin and any decisions on charges would be made my law enforcement authorities.
“To say that there is a political motive behind this… is not right,” Anwar said, according to state media Bernama.