Former Malaysian PM Mahathir faces corruption probe involving 2 sons

He’s the third former PM to be scrutinized under the Anwar Ibrahim administration.
Iman Muttaqin Yusof and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
Former Malaysian PM Mahathir faces corruption probe involving 2 sons Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 98, (fourth from left) lends his support to a group called “Defenders of the Fatherland,” who had gathered for a rally and to submit a memo to the then-King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah outside the palace in Kuala Lumpur, Jan. 23, 2024.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Malaysia’s anti-graft agency confirmed on Thursday that investigations into former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s sons that began this year are part of a wider corruption probe into the former leader. 

Mahathir, 98, is the third ex-PM to be investigated since Anwar Ibrahim became prime minister in November 2022, prompting some critics to say that Anwar is targeting his foes and rivals in the opposition.

Probes into his two immediate predecessors, Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Muhyiddin Yassin, began last year, and speculation about whether Mahathir was being investigated was rife earlier in 2024 after the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) asked two of his sons to declare their assets.

“I want to confirm that he [Mahathir] is among those being investigated … and as a result of the investigation into him, his children are also involved,” Azam Baki, MACC chief commissioner, told reporters, without disclosing details.

“We have notified both of his children to declare their assets … under Section 36 of the MACC Act.” 

This clause of the anti-corruption law requires individuals to declare their assets if they are subject to an investigation by the graft-busting agency. 

As of Thursday night, Mahathir had not commented on the MACC announcement.

According to the agency, their investigation into Mahathir’s sons, Mokhzani and Mirzan Mahathir, is related to the Panama Papers and the Pandora Papers, leaked documents that revealed names of many of the world’s influential and wealthy people who were hiding assets in offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes in their countries.

In August 2022, the agency said it had initiated an investigation into Malaysian “entities linked and named” in the Pandora and Panama papers.

The MACC had issued a notice to Mirzan on Jan. 18 to declare all his assets in Malaysia and abroad starting from 1981, the year Mahathir first became prime minister – he served until 2003. 

The anti-graft agency said on Jan. 27 that it had issued Mokhzani a similar notice, giving him 30 days as well to comply. Both brothers have been given 30-day extensions to their original 30 days to comply.

Mokhzani and Mirzan told Bloomberg News on March 25 that the MACC had ordered them to assist in an anti-graft investigation into their father in a case where he was the “primary suspect.”

“We are witnesses to whatever it is that they are investigating,” Mokhzani Mahathir, 63, told Bloomberg along with his older brother Mirzan. 

“We did ask, ‘What is the investigation on my father about [exactly]?’ and they did not furnish that information,” he added.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (right) listens to then-former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin during a news conference in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, April 5, 2018. [Lai Seng Sin/Reuters]

Malaysia has begun several corruption investigations in recent months involving current or past political figures, including the three former Prime Ministers: Mahathir, Ismail Sabri and Muhyiddin.

Some of these figures, many believe, are allies of Mahathir, who was once a mentor of Anwar’s but is now his arch enemy.

For instance, Malaysian courts earlier this year charged Mahathir’s long-time associate and former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin and his wife, separately, with failing to declare their assets.

Mahathir, too, alleged “selective prosecution” after MACC told two of his sons to declare their assets.

Anwar has refuted these claims, saying the investigations are part of the government’s broader campaign to root out high-level corruption. It was difficult to prosecute graft among the wealthy and influential, he said.

“Some have asked why we still bear a grudge against those who are old and unwell?” he asked at a party gathering on Sunday.

“So if you are old and unwell, does it mean that you can rape and kill? I replied that I don’t care, as the law prevails.”

Political analyst Mazlan Ali said that this investigation into Mahathir would be a stumbling block in any attempt by the former PM to participate in politics again.

“This investigation introduces a new narrative, because when Anwar was in the opposition, he had mentioned this [graft] issue many times in his political campaigns,” the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia analyst told BenarNews

Despite losing his parliamentary seat in the last general election, the nonagenarian was last year appointed advisor to the four states ruled by the opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional. Mahathir was appointed so he could use his status as an “influential figure” to attract investors to these states.

Perikatan, headed by ex-PM Muhyiddin, captured the second highest number of seats in the November 2022 general election.

Azmi Hassan, another academic, said the graft probe would undermine Mahathir’s own anti-corruption stance.

“This [investigation] diminishes Mahathir’s political aura in the fight against corruption,” Azmi, a senior fellow at the Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research, told BenarNews.“This also has negative implications for the opposition Perikatan Nasional, where Mahathir, together with others, tries to attack Anwar’s government.”

Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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