Hundreds protest against Malaysian government after DPM Ahmad Zahid’s graft charges were dropped

KUALA LUMPUR: Hundreds of people staged an anti-government rally on Saturday (Sep 16) in Kuala Lumpur, accusing Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim of helping his key ally escape prosecution in exchange for political support.

Prosecutors unexpectedly dropped 47 corruption charges against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Sep 4, late in the process of his trial. The court approved the application for dismissal but refused to grant Ahmad Zahid a full acquittal, which means he can be recharged.

Speakers addressing the crowd on Saturday accused Anwar’s government of interfering with the case to let Ahmad Zahid off the hook in return for political support.

Some protesters in the opposition-backed rally wore white shirts emblazoned with the words “Fight Corruption”. They marched in the city centre chanting, “Charge Zahid,” “Reform is dead” and “Down with Anwar”.

Protester Muhamed Yahya said there was a “hidden hand at work” that led to the charges against Ahmad Zahid being dropped.

“They used the back door,” he said.

Prosecutors said Ahmad Zahid’s case was temporarily halted because further investigation was needed. Anwar has said it was former attorney-general Idrus Harun’s decision just before he retired and denied interfering in the case.

The dropped charges have led to renewed calls for reforms that would separate the attorney general’s roles as the government’s legal adviser and its public prosecutor.

Ahmad Zahid heads the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and his party’s support has been pivotal in helping Anwar form a unity government after November’s general election led to a hung Parliament. The dismissal of charges sparked new criticism, particularly in light of the Anwar government’s anti-corruption stance.

A lot of promises were not fulfilled by Anwar’s government, said protester Zolazrai Zolkapli.

“Their promises were all lies. When we have been cheated by their propaganda and cheated by their manifesto, we come here to show our support for the rally,” he said.

Police had declared the gathering unlawful, as no permission was granted to hold it, but they did not stop the protest, which ended peacefully after several hours.

Ahmad Zahid was detained on graft charges in 2018 after UMNO lost power, facing 12 counts of criminal breach of trust, 27 counts of money laundering and eight counts of bribery involving more than 31 million ringgit (US$6.7 million) from his family foundation.

Prosecutors alleged that money intended for charity was misappropriated for his personal use, including to shop and pay off his credit cards. More than 110 witnesses have testified in his case.

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