Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency said it would charge former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin with multiple counts of corruption, a move that he called political persecution.
The charges come just three months after Muhyiddin lost a closely fought general election to Anwar Ibrahim, and are likely to increase political tensions in Malaysia, which has seen four prime ministers since 2018.
Muhyuddin will be charged under laws related to abuse of power and money laundering in a Kuala Lumpur court on Friday over an economic recovery project launched by his government, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said.
Muhyiddin denied accusations of wrongdoing and described them as political vendetta. He was briefly arrested on Thursday before being released on bail.
Speaking to reporters, Muhyiddin said he would face seven charges on Friday.
“I stress that I am not guilty and I will face all charges against me in court… This action is political persecution because they fear the strength of Perikatan Nasional,” Muhyiddin said, referring to his opposition alliance.
The allegations come ahead of regional elections to be held in six states by mid-year, with his coalition expected to pose a strong challenge to Anwar’s alliance.
Prime minister for 17 months between 2020 and 2021, Muhyuddin is the second Malaysian leader to be charged with crimes after losing power. In 2018, Najib Razak faced multiple graft allegations over the multi-billion dollar corruption scandal at state fund 1MDB and has been since been jailed.
Malaysian politics has been in a flux since Najib lost elections in 2018, bringing to an end an uninterrupted rule by the UMNO party that had governed for more than 60 years since independence.
Anwar himself served jail time for corruption and sodomy before he became prime minister, charges he insists were politically motivated and designed to keep him from power.
Muhyiddin and his party have faced graft investigations since losing the national election in November, with the party’s bank accounts frozen by the anti-graft body and two leaders charged with bribery over the economic project.
One of those, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, said the Anwar government was aiming to cripple the opposition with the crackdown.
Anwar’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier on Thursday he said he has not interfered in graft investigations involving Muhyiddin and any decisions on charges would be made by law enforcement authorities.
“To say that there is a political motive behind this… is not right,” Anwar said, according to state media Bernama.