June 25, 2005

Malaysian minister, aide suspended

Malaysia's ruling party suspended a Cabinet minister and his aide on charges of corruption, marking one of the biggest steps in meeting Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's pledge to deal with graft.
Federal Territory Minister Isa Samad, a vice-president in Abdullah's United Malays National Organisation, was suspended for six years from the party on charges that he breached its code of ethics during internal elections in September 2004, including bribing party delegates with money and food to vote for him.
His political secretary, Salim Sharif, was suspended for three years for abetting the vote buying.
The suspensions, decided on Friday by the party's disciplinary committee, were confirmed by Salim on Saturday.
"I can confirm the suspensions but you will have to get the details from the disciplinary committee," Salim said. He refused to give details.
All Malaysian newspapers carried the news of the suspension, citing unidentified sources in the party.
The two men have two weeks to appeal the sentence, failing which Isa will also have to resign as minister.
Isa, the No 3 ranking official in the party after Abdullah and Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, was found guilty of five of the nine charges levelled against him. Salim was found guilty of all three charges against him.
The main charges are that Isa allowed Salim to pay on his behalf 300 ringgit ($A102.6) to 1,000 ringgit($A341.7)each to delegates at the party elections to win the party vice-presidency.
Abdullah made the fight against graft his main policy platform after he succeeded ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad in 2003. and initially made high-profile arrests during the early days in office.
The suspensions against Isa and Salim come before the party general assembly next month. Such a stern decision is likely to deflect growing criticism by opposition leaders and some members of Abdullah's party that he has made little progress in the fight against corruption.
Also, Abdullah had faced indirect criticism from Mahathir in recent months with the former leader lamenting that money politics has become rampant in UMNO, and that it was eating away at the moral fibre of the country.
Although there is no talk of bad blood between Abdullah and Mahathir - who still commands considerable respect in political circles - Isa's suspension is seen as the prime minister's reply to his predecessor's tongue lashing: Isa is a Mahathir loyalist.
Isa, 56, a former school teacher, entered politics at the age of 23 and became a Cabinet minister for the first time after winning a parliamentary seat in last year's general elections. He also won the highest number of votes in the September party elections for the vice president's post.
The Star newspaper quoted Salim as saying the guilty verdict against his boss was "grossly unfair", questioning the speed with which the disciplinary committee reached the verdict within 24 hours of launching an inquiry.
"Have they forgotten his contribution to the party and the government over the last 30 years," Salim was quoted as saying.


Friday Jun 24 2005

Malaysian minister accused of corruption

By John Burton

Malaysia’s ruling party on Thursday charged a cabinet minister with corruption in the first of several high-profile cases involving officials accused of vote-buying in the party’s internal elections last year.
The move against Isa Samad, the federal territory minister, is seen as an attempt by Abdullah Badawi, the prime minister, to face down opponents within the ruling United Malays National Organisation.
The Umno disciplinary board is investigating at least six officials, including two cabinet ministers and the chief ministers of two of Malaysia’s 13 states, for alleged vote-buying, according to a person familiar with the probe. It would be the biggest series of corruption cases against senior officials in years.
“The evidence against at least two of them is considered very strong and they will likely be forced to resign,” said the person.
The crackdown on Umno corruption comes amid growing public criticism that Mr Abdullah has failed to uproot graft in spite of earlier pledges to do so.
The party elections last September dealt a blow to Mr Abdullah because rivals were elected to top posts, defeating a list of candidates supported by the prime minister. The election was seen as contest between the party’s “old guard,” associated with money-driven patronage politics, and a new generation of reformers allied with Mr Abdullah.
Mr Isa, who administers the Kuala Lumpur region, was elected to one of three Umno vice-president posts in the election, which was marked by allegations of vote-buying. Another Umno vice-president is also believed to be under investigation, along with several members of the party’s policy-making supreme council.
If found guilty, Mr Isa would probably be suspended by the party and forced to resign both his Umno vice-president post and his cabinet portfolio.
Other senior members implicated in the corruption scandal are likely to be called before the Umno disciplinary committee in the next few days.
Some analysts said the corruption probe could mark a turning point in Mr Abdullah’s effort to gain control over Umno. But they cautioned that the prime minister could face a backlash by the old guard if he pushes the effort too far.
The election raised doubts about Mr Abdullah’s ability to gain the support of the party’s rank and file to fight corruption, while weakening his power to push through other reform measures.
The party election came shortly after Mr Abdullah led the long-serving Umno-led National Front coalition government to its biggest parliamentary victory since independence in 1957, but the defeat for Mr Abdullah’s allies underscored his lack of a strong power base within the faction-ridden party.
“Many people have the impression that Umno will act only against the small fry,” Mr Abdullah said this week in response to criticism that he had targeted only low-ranking politicians and officials so far in his anti-graft campaign.
“We will act against anybody, regardless of their position, because Umno’s disciplinary rules are meant for all and not for certain people only.”

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