Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister, appeared in court in Kuala Lumpur on Friday charged with 45 counts of corruption, the latest senior politician to be charged with suspected graft since May’s general election brought the country’s first change in government in 60 years.
Zahid, who currently leads the opposition as president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), waved to supporters and the media as he arrived in court where he was charged with abuse of power, criminal breach of trust, and money laundering amounting to 114m ringgit ($27.4m).
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Some of the charges relate to the misuse of funds from a charitable foundation set up by his family, while others are in connection with questionable payments he received when he was home minister from 2013 until earlier this year. Zahid has denied any wrongdoing.
UMNO ruled Malaysia for six decades before its defeat in May’s general election, amid simmering public anger over a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB that was overseen by former Prime Minister and Finance Minister Najib Razak.
Zahid spent the night in custody after his arrest on Thursday by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). The court set bail at 2m ringgit ($481,000) and the politician was ordered to surrender his passport.
UMNO insists the case against their leader is politically motivated and his brother, Mohamad Lokman Hamidi, said Friday was a “black day” for Malaysia.
“My brother is innocent,” he told reporters.
Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, are already facing trial in relation to multiple 1MDB-related charges.
Najib, who local media reported was at court on Friday to give “moral support” to his former deputy, has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to 32 criminal charges involving more than 2.3bn ringgit ($553m) allegedly syphoned from the fund. Rosmah has pleaded not guilty to 17 money-laundering offences.
Political analyst Ibrahim Suffian said the corruption crackdown had public support.
“Many people had their suspicions that senior leaders were involved in financial improprieties,” Ibrahim told Al Jazeera. “UMNO will likely remain in the wilderness while these allegations are hanging over the party.”
Malaysia has frozen hundreds of bank accounts and blocked several people from leaving the country as it steps up investigations into how billions of dollars allegedly went missing from state coffers.
In June, the MACC said it had frozen several accounts linked to UMNO as part of their investigations into 1MDB.
US authorities say more than $4.5bn was misappropriated from 1MDB, and nearly $700m diverted into Najib’s personal bank accounts.