Top Malaysian opposition politician on trial for graft


Penang (Malaysia) (AFP)

A leading Malaysian opposition politician and vocal critic of Prime Minister Najib Razak went on trial for corruption Monday as elections loom, in a case critics say is politically motivated.

Lim Guan Eng, who has repeatedly demanded that Najib explain a massive financial scandal that has engulfed his administration, appeared in the High Court in the northern state of Penang.

Supporters gathered outside the court, shouting "Support Guan Eng" and "Arrest Najib", as Lim denied two counts of abuse of office at the start of the trial.

Lim, who has been chief minister of Penang state since 2008 and has led the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) since 2004, faces one charge relating to the purchase of a house, allegedly below market price.

The second relates to the improper change of use of public land to allow development. He faces up to 20 years in jail if found guilty.

At Monday's hearing the prosecution called several witnesses. The first was blogger Muhsin Latheef, who lodged reports with anti-corruption authorities and the police about the house purchase that triggered the probe into Lim.

Under cross-examination by Lim's lawyer Gobind Singh Deo, Muhsin said he did not know what the appropriate price for the property was but denied that he made inaccurate statements in his report to the police.

Also standing trial was businesswoman Phang Li Koon, who is accused of abetting Lim in the purchase of the bungalow. She denies the charge.

Najib faces allegations that billions of dollars were plundered from a state-owned investment fund, 1MDB, he founded. Najib and 1MDB deny any wrongdoing.

Lim's DAP is a member of four-party opposition coalition, the Pact of Hope. Their candidate for the forthcoming polls is veteran ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad, 92, who has come out of retirement to take on former protege Najib.

The general election must be called by August but is widely expected sooner.