Lavish spending by Islamist leaders in Malaysia has come under the spotlight and authorities want them to explain the source of their wealth.
Investigations have been opened by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission following disclosures that Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) leaders had purchased luxury vehicles including a Range Rover, Audi A6, Toyota Vellfire, BMW motorcycle and a Mercedes-Benz among others.
The probe comes on the heels of an out-of-court settlement on Feb. 2 in Britain between PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang and blogger Clare Rewcastle-Brown of Sarawak Report over corruption allegations.
Hadi had sued Rewcastle-Brown for defamation in 2017 after she wrote that PAS leaders received 90 million ringgit (US$22 million) from former premier Najib Razak in exchange for the party’s support in the last general election. The settlement triggered calls in Malaysia for authorities to investigate the purchase of costly foreign-made vehicles and property.
Former senior PAS leader Nasharuddin Mat Isa and Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz, a young, firebrand leader in the party, had their statements recorded on Feb. 8 and at least eight more PAS leaders are expected to be questioned.
A purported audio recording, confirmed as genuine by Hadi Awang in his suit, of Nik Abduh telling PAS colleagues that millions of ringgit had indeed passed from Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to PAS was used by Sarawak Report in its defense.
People claiming to have witnessed Nik Abduh utter the remarks have since come forward with their testimonies on social media. Nik Abduh has denied taking bribes from UMNO and urged those spreading the audio clip to repent.
Senior PAS central leader Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali also dismissed the recording, saying that many people sound like PAS leaders.
In a damage limitation exercise, PAS leader Hadi Awang told the media at a hastily called press conference that the party’s funds came from having over a million members, thousands of kindergartens and hundreds of schools.
“So don’t be confused about where PAS gets its money from,” he said in Marang, Terengganu, adding that the party would cooperate with investigators to clear its name.
The deputy chief minister of Kelantan state, Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, dismissed the allegations of corruption. Kelantan and Terengganu state are ruled by the conservative Islamic party.
“The accusations at the High Court in London are 100 percent untrue and owe more to hearsay. I have bought cars but only those that are within my means. Surely a deputy menteri besar (chief minister) can buy a car priced more than 100,000 ringgit,” he was quoted as saying by local media.
Disgraced former premier Najib, who is due to stand trial on the first of a series of corruption and money-laundering charges this week, has denied paying PAS the colossal sum.