Malaysian ex-deputy PM charged with money laundering, graft

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was charged on Friday with 45 offences including money laundering and graft amid a widening crackdown on corruption.

FILE PHOTO: Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi of Malaysia speaks during a high-level meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants at the United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

Ahmad Zahid leads the opposition as president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the once-powerful party that ruled Malaysia for 60 years before being ousted in a shock general election defeat in May.

He is the latest former high-ranking official to be charged with suspected graft since the unexpected election victory of a coalition led by Mahathir Mohamad.

Ahmad Zahid was charged with 10 counts of criminal breach of trust and eight counts of abuse of power involving sums totaling 42 million ringgit ($10 million), state news agency Bernama said. He was also charged with 27 counts of laundering about 72 million ringgit ($17.3 million).

He pleaded not guilty to all charges, Bernama said.

Ahmad Zahid, also the former home minister, was accused of using his position to receive bribes in exchange for helping companies win contracts for ministry projects, the news agency reported.

In one case, he was alleged to have accepted 6 million ringgit ($1.4 million) from a director of Datasonic Group Berhad that had secured a five-year government contract to supply 12.5 million electronic chips for Malaysian passports.

In another, prosecutors said Ahmad Zahid received 13.25 million ringgit, allegedly to assist a company secure projects awarded by My EG Services Sdn Bhd, a government service provider.

Shares of Datasonic slumped as much as 43 percent on the national stock exchange before paring some losses to trade down 28 percent.

Datasonic said neither the company nor any company official made a payment to Ahmad Zahidi.

My EG said the company had never made any payments to any party to secure contracts. Its shares fell as much as 30 percent before the stock exchange suspended trading.

Ahmad Zahidi was also accused of misusing funds from his family-run charity foundation.

Each of the 45 charges carries a jail term of up to 20 years, with fines of up to five times the value of the illegal transactions for the money laundering and abuse of power offences.

Former premier Najib Razak is also facing graft charges, but related to a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) that led to the former ruling coalition’s shock election defeat. His wife, Rosmah Mansor, has also been charged.

They have pleaded not guilty, with Najib’s trial due to begin next year.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie