Malaysian government prosecutors withdrew corruption charges on Tuesday against an ally of former prime minister Najib Razak, whose party returned to power in a new coalition three months ago after having lost the last election amid massive graft scandals.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court acquitted Musa Aman, a senior figure in Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and former chief minister of Sabah state in Malaysian Borneo, after the prosecution dropped all 46 charges of alleged bribery in timber concession deals and money-laundering.
Musa’s lawyer, Amer Hamzah Arshad, said the charges had been akin to “political persecution”.
The prosecution gave no reason for withdrawing the charges, which involved a total of 403 million ringgit ($94.60 million), and the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition described the decision as “confusing and disappointing”.
“The attorney general’s chambers must immediately provide a full explanation for the decision as it would reflect on the true face of today’s administration,” it said in a statement.
Opposition leaders and critics fear political influence could sway the outcome of the cases against Najib and other politicians as the country’s new Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is dependent on UMNO’s support.
Najib faces multiple corruption charges in three separate trials linked to the siphoning off of billions of dollars from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and other cases.
He has pleaded not guilty and will know the verdict in the first case against him in July.
Najib, Musa and others described the cases brought against them as politically motivated.
Outrage over the 1MDB scandal was one of the main factors why UMNO lost the historic 2018 election, its first defeat since Malaysia emerged from British colonial rule more than 60 years ago.
The victors’ multi-ethnic coalition, headed by veteran leader Mahathir Mohamed, splintered in February, paving the way for Muhyiddin to patch up with UMNO to form a new, Malay-dominated coalition.
After the change in government, Najib told Reuters news agency he expected an atmosphere more conducive to a fair hearing. Last month, prosecutors dropped 1MDB-related charges against Najib’s stepson, Hollywood producer Riza Aziz.