Federal Territory Minister Isa Samad, a vice president in Abdullah's United Malays National Organisation, was suspended for six years from the party on charges that he breached its code of ethics during internal elections in September 2004, including bribing party delegates with money and food to vote for him.
 
His political secretary, Salim Sharif, was suspended for three years for abetting the vote buying.

The suspensions, decided on Friday by the party's disciplinary committee, were confirmed by Salim. "I can confirm the suspensions but you will have to get the details from the disciplinary committee," Salim told The Associated Press.

He refused to give details.

Five charges

All Malaysian newspapers also carried the news of the suspension, citing unidentified sources in the party.

The two men have two weeks to appeal the sentence, failing which Isa will also have to resign as minister.

Isa Samad was the No 3 official
in Malaysia's ruling UMNO party

Isa, the No 3 ranking official in the party after Abdullah and Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, was found guilty of five of the nine charges levelled against him.

Salim was found guilty of all three charges against him.

The main charges are that Isa allowed Salim to pay on his behalf 300 ringgit ($79) to 1000 ringgit ($263) each to delegates at the party elections to win the party vice presidency.

Abdullah made the fight against graft his main policy platform after he succeeded ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad in 2003, and made high-profile arrests during the early days in office.

The suspensions against Isa and Salim come before the party general assembly next month.

Growing criticism

Such a stern decision is likely to deflect growing criticism by opposition leaders and some members of Abdullah's party that he has made little progress in the fight against corruption.

Also, Abdullah had faced indirect criticism from Mahathir in recent months, with the former leader lamenting that money politics has become rampant in UMNO, and that it was eating away at the moral fibre of the country.

Ex-prime minister Mahathir had
recently attacked money politics

Although there is no talk of bad blood between Abdullah and Mahathir - who still commands considerable respect in political circles - Isa's suspension is seen as the prime minister's reply to his predecessor's tongue lashing: Isa is a Mahathir loyalist.

Isa, 56, a former school teacher, entered politics at the age of 23 and became a cabinet minister for the first time after winning a parliamentary seat in last year's general elections.

He also won the highest number of votes in the September party elections for the vice president's post.

The Star newspaper quoted Salim as saying the guilty verdict against his boss was "grossly unfair", questioning the speed with which the disciplinary committee reached the verdict within 24 hours of launching an inquiry.