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Malaysia’s anti-graft chief Azam Baki in an advert by the MACC. Photo: Facebook

Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission digs in heels as opposition slams ‘inaction’ over Azam Baki’s share-trading saga

  • Deputies at country’s top graft-buster have backed their boss, saying whistle-blower’s claims that he engaged in improper share trading are politically motivated
  • The opposition Pakatan Harapan has accused the officers of prejudicing the probe and PM Ismail Sabri of inaction. Satirists, meanwhile, are having a field day
Senior Malaysian opposition figures have criticised the leadership of the country’s anti-corruption commission, after top deputies in the agency offered a full-throated backing of their boss over allegations that he engaged in improper share trading.

In a statement on Sunday, the deputy commissioners of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said the allegations against the agency’s chief, Azam Baki, made public by a whistle-blower, were aimed at maligning the veteran graft-buster.

Top leaders of the opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance immediately criticised the three senior officers for prejudicing the ongoing probe into the matter, and some members of the bloc on Monday staged a brief protest in the administrative capital Putrajaya.

The saga has dominated national headlines for days, with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob also coming under fire for staying silent on the matter.

The country’s Securities Commission meanwhile said it was looking into the allegations, which centre around claims that Azam had bought millions of shares in two public companies between 2015 and 2016, contravening rules on such shareholding by civil servants.

He has said his brother had used his trading account to purchase the shares.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob. Photo: AP

On Saturday, the prime minister said it was wrong to interpret his silence as inaction.

“Let’s wait for the investigation to be completed. We cannot jump to the conclusion that Azam Baki is guilty. We have to be fair to all and only take action after the investigation is completed,” Ismail Sabri was quoted as saying by the national news agency Bernama.

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The MACC’s three deputy commissioners meanwhile issued a joint statement backing Azam, 58.

“On behalf of all of MACC’s staff, we state our stand to support the leadership of MACC chief commissioner Azam Baki,” Ahmad Khusairi Yahaya, Norazlan Mohd Razali and Junipah Wandi said in the statement.

“We believe that the slander and attacks are motivated by political revenge to bring down the image and credibility of MACC.”

Their statement in turn triggered a sharp response from opposition figures.

Lim Guan Eng, leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and a former finance minister, said Ismail Sabri was risking his personal standing – already hit hard by the government’s mismanagement of recent floods – by allowing the controversy at the MACC to fester.

Malaysia’s former finance minister Lim Guan Eng. Photo: Reuters

There have been widening calls for Azam to step aside while the Securities Commission probe is under way, and Lim said it was “ethically, morally and even legally untenable” for the MACC chief to remain in charge of the agency during the investigation.

Gobind Singh Deo, another senior DAP figure, said on Monday it was critical for the MACC to show that action would be taken against any individual – including senior officers – if they were found to have acted against the law.

Said Gobind: “The MACC may be called in to assist the police investigation in this case. How can the community be confident about the assistance that will be rendered when the MACC in the first instance has voiced support for a party involved in the probe?”

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Government critics have also taken aim at Azam for sending a letter of demand to local anti-graft whistle-blower Lalitha Kunaratnam over her reports on the saga on the Independent News Service website.

That move drew particular derision, with online commenters pointing to Azam’s recent voicing of support for additional legal protection for whistle-blowers.

Azam, already ridiculed last week for suggesting his brother had accessed his trading account to purchase shares – an act that is illegal under Malaysian law – remained the primary focus of the country’s political satirists.

Local cartoonist Zunar drew a cartoon depicting a wordplay of the badge “I am against corruption” – Saya Anti Rasuah – worn by police and other government servants, changing it to – Saya Nanti Rasuah – “I welcome corruption”.

Similarly, political satirist Fahmi Reza published a Spotify playlist of 50 songs themed around brotherly love, calling it “My Dear Little Brother” with a caricature of Azam Baki on the cover.

The MACC, which sits under the prime minister’s office, has sweeping powers to investigate graft in the country but has long had a reputational problem.

A key gripe of the agency’s critics was its slow response to the multibillion-dollar 1MDB financial scandal for which the country’s ex-leader Najib Razak is facing multiple criminal trials.

Some of its officers have also been involved in cases of abuse of power and impropriety.

Azam was appointed the MACC’s chief commissioner by Ismail Sabri’s predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin, in March 2020. The 58-year-old first became an anti-graft officer in 1984.