A Malaysian court yesterday acquitted a former transport minister implicated in one of the country's biggest financial scandals, sparking opposition accusations the government was reneging on its promise to fight corruption.
A Kuala Lumpur court found Ling Liong Sik not guilty of cheating the government over the Port Klang Free Trade Zone, a 400 hectares commercial and industrial project near the capital.
Media reports said the judge acquitted Ling on the charges of deceiving the government in 2002 over a land purchase. Ling was transport minister from 1986 to 2003.
Ling's lawyer Wong Kian Kheong confirmed the acquittal but declined to comment. Prosecutors, who can appeal the verdict to a higher court, did not respond to requests for comment.
Senior opposition politician Tian Chua said Ling's trial had been a "show" from the start to convince the public the government was serious about its pledge to crack down on graft. Media reported that the project's initial cost of 1.1 billion ringgit (HK$2.69 billion) eventually spiralled to more than 4.6 billion ringgit.
Besides Ling, several others have been charged, including another former transport minister whose trial has not been concluded.
Prime Minister Najib Razak's Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition won re-election in May, extending its 56-year rule. But its parliamentary majority was further reduced.
Corruption, from small bribes for minor traffic offences to the awarding of huge contracts without transparent tender process, is endemic in Malaysia. Successful high-profile prosecutions are rare.