After Zahid’s DNAA, Najib and Rosmah could walk away free

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Having struggled for 25 years before becoming the premier, Anwar has no plan to sacrifice everything just to send one man to jail.

If Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is convicted of corruption, the Unity Government being led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim will crumble and collapse. Zahid, who is the president of UMNO, the Malay nationalist party that agreed to form the federal government with the Anwar-led Pakatan Harapan coalition after the Nov 2022 General Election that produced a hung Parliament, will withdraw his support.

Zahid had done it before, and he would be more than happy to do it again to save himself. When the previous backdoor regime of Muhyiddin had refused to drop corruption charges on Zahid and ex-PM Najib Razak, both UMNO leaders staged a rebellion. In July 2021, they led a faction of UMNO MPs to withdraw support for PM Muhyiddin, forcing him to resign a month later.

The UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition has 30 MPs, without which neither Pakatan Harapan (82 MPs) nor rival Perikatan Nasional (74 MPs) can form a government. So, UMNO is the kingmaker, and Zahid happens to be the chief of the kingmaker. Having struggled for 25 years before becoming the premier, Anwar has no plan to sacrifice everything just to send one man to jail.

It’s as simple as that. Either Zahid is freed, allowing him to continue leading the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and support the unity government, or rock the boat and allow the opposition Perikatan Nasional to form a Taliban regime. The choice isn’t hard – choose either the racist bigot and religious extremist Perikatan Nasional or the moderate Pakatan Harapan.

You don’t need rocket science to tell you that when the prosecution decided to drop all the charges against the UMNO president, the decision was suspiciously “influenced by politics”. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest “political interference” after Judge Colin Lawrence Sequerah was forced to order a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA).

The judge arrived at his decision based on the grounds that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is still investigating the case after Zahid’s legal team made representations to the Attorney-General’s Chambers in December and January. Zahid’s defence team, led by senior lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, had argued that its client should be fully acquitted of all the charges.

The only consolation prize is that Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohd Dusuki Mokhtar applied for a DNAA, which means Zahid can still face trial for the same charges in the future if the prosecution decides to reinstate them. With DNAA hanging around his neck, the Deputy Prime Minister can be expected to play safe and remain loyal to PM Anwar.

Even if PM Anwar had not personally interfered in the prosecution’s decision, the damage has been done. The perception is that the government – either the prime minister or UMNO – has pressured the Attorney-General’s Chambers to drop all the charges. It’s an insult to the people’s intelligence to say that Zahid’s DNAA was a court decision, as suggested by Home Minister Saifuddin.

But what’s the difference between Muhyiddin’s DNAA and Zahid’s DNAA? On August 15, the High Court acquitted ex-PM Muhyiddin of four abuse of power charges for using his position to receive bribes amounting to RM232.5 million after finding them defective and non-compliant with existing laws. Today, the High Court acquitted Zahid because the prosecution wanted to.

In both cases, the incompetent prosecution had screwed up or deliberately refused to continue with the trials because of screws-up. It’s both puzzling and laughable for the Attorney-General’s Chambers to apply for a DNAA now when the High Court already ruled on January 24, 2022, that the prosecution had established a prima facie case against the Zahid.

It was definitely a waste of public funds and the judiciary process when the prosecution had called a total of 99 witnesses and the High Court ruled that it had proven all of the elements of the Yayasan Akalbudi charges against Zahid. Heck, Zahid and his wife had even used over RM1.3 million in the funds to pay for his credit card charges for shopping at luxury stores like Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton and Hermes.

While the Anwar administration might not have interfered with the independence of the judge’s latest decision, it can certainly influence the Attorney-General’s Chambers to drop the case. After all, the top lawyer’s employment is at the mercy of the prime minister. Interestingly, Zahid’s DNAA came just one day before AG Idrus Harun’s contract ends on September 5.

Zahid’s acquittal will provide tonnes of bullets for the opposition to attack the government. Muhyiddin, president of Bersatu or Malaysian United Indigenous Party, can claim that Anwar, who has been screaming about anti-corruption till foaming at the mouth, is now a proven fake reformer. Not only Zahid was appointed as a deputy prime minister, he is also being freed by Anwar for the sake of power.

The Perikatan Nasional chairman, therefore, can brag that the opposition is indeed clean and incorruptible. However, Muhyiddin and his minions should not overplay their hands. Under the previous illegitimate and un-elected Perikatan Nasional government, Zahid Hamidi was acquitted of 40 charges of receiving bribes from a company to extend its foreign visa system (VLN).

Yes, exactly a year ago, High Court Judge Yazid Mustafa ruled that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against the UMNO president. Essentially, Zahid, facing a jaw-dropping 87 charges, saw 40 of the charges thrown away in September 2022 under the Perikatan Nasional government, and another 47 charges dropped now under the Unity Government.

Hence, the unity government can also argue that the desperate Muhyiddin had purposely arranged for Zahid’s 40 charges to be thrown away at the last minute before the Nov 2022 General Election in anticipation of Perikatan Nasional needing Barisan Nasional support to form a government again. Why can Perikatan Nasional free Zahid, but not Pakatan Harapan-Barisan Nasional?

Make no mistake – Zahid is as guilty as hell. But he is a very lucky man. Facing 47 charges involving multiple counts of criminal breach of trust (RM31 million), corruption (RM21 million) and money laundering (RM72 million) related to the misuse of funds at Yayasan Akalbudi, a charity he established under the pretext of eradicating poverty, PM Anwar needs him more than ever.

He was lucky when the incompetent AG Idrus Harun, a political appointee of Muhyiddin, did a lousy job with the initial 40 corruption charges. And he is lucky because thanks to the anti-hopping law, he controls the bloc of 30 Barisan Nasional MPs required to guarantee the stability of the Anwar-led unity government. More importantly, he is lucky to be UMNO president.

The results of the recent six state elections that showed UMNO supporters have fled to Perikatan Nasional make Zahid’s role as the glue between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan even more crucial. UMNO deputy president Mohamad Hasan’s dubious loyalty could see the party withdraw support for the Anwar government if Zahid suddenly lost power.

Had Najib Razak refused to resign in 2018 after losing power for the first time in 60 years over widespread anger at the corruption and the multibillion-dollar scandal at the 1MDB state fund, he might not need to spend 12 years in prison. As the UMNO president, he would have the leverage to negotiate for his corruption charges to be dropped, or at least make them defective.

The vulnerability of the Anwar government, thanks largely to relentless attacks by the opposition, could see Najib demanding his 1MDB case to be dropped, as leaked in an internal memo recently. The 12-page memo argued that the available evidence in the case was “grossly insufficient to prove a prima facie case for the six charges, let alone to secure a conviction beyond reasonable doubt”.

Similar to how Zahid could threaten Anwar and Pakatan Harapan’s power, Najib too could threaten Zahid’s grip in UMNO. At best, crooked Najib could force the UMNO president to pressure the prime minister to drop all his remaining charges. At worst, the crook could lobby for the corruption charges against his wife Rosmah to be dropped, as well as soliciting a royal pardon for himself.

High Court Judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan on Sept 1, 2022, delivered the guilty verdict on the 70-year-old Rosmah – 10 years’ jail on each of three corruption charges involving a RM1.25 billion hybrid solar project for 369 rural schools in Sarawak. She was also fined RM970 million. The court, however, allowed a stay of execution pending an appeal in the Court of Appeal.

The burning question is whether Anwar, Zahid and Najib have struck some deals to form a secret cooperation to counter the increasing influence of opposition Perikatan Nasional. Has desperado Anwar been ill-advised to free not only Zahid but also Najib and his infamous wife in exchange for UMNO’s loyalty for the next four years till the 16th General Election?

Like it or not, it’s all about politics – never about fighting corruption, let alone about reforms. Idealists would protest vigorously over Zahid’s acquittal, even blaming the Anwar government for freeing crooks. However, in reality, the country is plagued with religious bigotry and racial extremism. It definitely screams hypocrisy, but it’s a choice of the lesser of two evils – Zahid or Muhyiddin with Hadi thrown in. – Finance Twitter