Saturday, February 10, 2007

Malaysian court frees PM’s friend in graft case

Malaysian court frees PM’s friend in graft case

10 February 2007

KUALA LUMPUR - The first politician sent to jail under Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s anti-corruption campaign has been freed by a court following an appeal, the politician’s lawyer said on Saturday.

A judge in the northern city of Ipoh on Friday quashed the conviction of Azman Mahalan, one of Abdullah’s old friends, because of severe flaws in the case, Shafee Abdullah said.

“There were severe defects because some of the most beneficial things for this man were not considered,” Shafee, one of the country’s top criminal lawyers, told Reuters.

The New Straits Times daily said the judge also ticked off anti-corruption officials for sitting on the case for too long.

“Cases should be handled promptly so that the guilty will be punished and the innocent acquitted,” Judge V.T. Singham said.

A lower court had in 2005 sentenced Azman, 64, to two years’ jail and fined him 35,000 ringgit ($10,000) for corruption, but stayed the sentence pending the appeal.

The court heard that Azman, a leader in Abdullah’s ruling party, had paid 7,000 ringgit in bribes to a creditor of another party official not to settle the official’s debt. That allegedly kept the official in bankruptcy and ineligible to challenge Azman for a party post.

Abdullah, vowing to fight graft after assuming power in late 2003, had referred to the case obliquely when—accused of moving too slowly against corruption—said he would show neither fear nor favour.

The government has said it is making more arrests for corruption, with a total of 485 in 2004, up 43 percent from the previous prime minister’s last year in office.

But there has been only one major catch—a former land minister who was arrested in 2004 -- and his full court hearing has just started after a three-year delay.