On Tuesday, 9 June, former chief minister of Sabah Musa Haji Aman was acquitted of 46 charges related to corruption and money laundering
The 69-year-old, who had previously served as the chief minister of Sabah from 2003 until 2018, was acquitted of 46 charges by High Court judge Muhammad Jamil earlier today.
According to Astro Awani, Jamil announced, "The accused is hereby acquitted and discharged. The bail money will be refunded to the bailer and the dates set for trial earlier will be vacated."
Initially, the trial was scheduled to start on 14 September this year.
The order came after Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid told the court that the prosecution intended to withdraw all charges following instructions from the Attorney General's Chambers, as reported by South China Morning Post.
Musa was initially charged with 30 counts of corruption and 16 counts of money laundering
According to Malay Mail, the former chief minister was facing 30 counts of corruption involving RM213.50 million that he allegedly received from "eight logging concessionaires as inducement to give timber concessions to 16 companies".
Essentially, this means eight logging permit-holders paid Musa an incentive for him to grant timber licenses to the 16 companies.
In the same report by Malay Mail, "The 16 money laundering charges [were] related to his alleged receiving of proceeds from illegal activities amounting to USD37,845,491.60 (approximately RM162 million)."
These deals supposedly took place between 2004 and 2008.
The 46 charges carried a possible sentence of over three decades in prison
The money offered as inducement to give out timber concessions was first received in Hong Kong and Singapore, as reported by The Star.
This landed Musa with 35 counts under Section 11(a) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009 in November 2018. According to the Act, these charges carried a maximum imprisonment of 20 years and a fine not less than five times the amount of bribe or RM10,000, whichever is higher, upon conviction.
A report by Astro Awani noted that, "In reference to the 16 counts of money laundering, Musa allegedly instructed Richard Christopher Barnes, 67, to open an account of UBS AG Bank, Singapore, under the name of Richard Christopher Barnes, through which he intended to receive proceeds from illegal activities."
Under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing, and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (AMLA), Musa's alleged 16 counts of money laundering carried a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, as well as a fine of no less than five times the amount of illegal proceeds or RM5 million, whichever is higher, upon conviction.
After his initial charge in November 2018, Musa was brought to court in March 2019 over the 16 charges of money laundering that he was acquitted of today.
Francis Ng, Musa's other lawyer, blamed political motive as the reason behind the charges
In a report by the Malay Mail, the defence maintained that, "The funds former Sabah chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman was accused of receiving corruptly were not linked to any projects in Sabah… but were instead political donations for UMNO and Barisan Nasional."
Amer continued, "These funds were actually already explained during past investigations, where it was [deemed to be] political donations given by party supporters, donors, the public, and Barisan Nasional (BN)/UMNO headquarters for use in preparation for by-elections and general elections, activities, and expenditure of BN/UMNO Sabah."
In a five-page statement, Amer said that "all relevant and related documents had been supplied to the MACC" who alongside Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) were said to have verified the documents.
A letter dated 22 December 2011 was issued by the ICAC saying that they had completed investigations on Musa and would be taking no further action against the former minister.
This, cites Malay Mail, was verified by former attorney general (AG) Abdul Gani alongside chief members of the MACC.
As a result of this, The Edge noted that, "[Francis] said the revival of these charges against Musa was a mala fide prosecution and a political persecution." This basically suggests that the charges were of ill-intent particularly as they came two days before a court decision on a conflict over the Sabah chief minister post.
Musa uploaded a media statement expressing his gratitude for the court's decision
In a media statement uploaded this morning, Musa said, "I have been given justice to clear up the accusations brought against me."
He also expressed his gratitude for those in the judiciary body who he believed acted "objectively, professionally, and without prejudice".
In a report by New Straits Times, Musa's lawyer Francis mimicked the former minister's relief saying, "We are happy. We feel that it is a fair and correct decision - long overdue."
The reason behind the prosecution's withdrawal of the charges are yet to be known
Meanwhile, Sabah UMNO leaders are optimistic about their political positions
According to Malay Mail, Sabah UMNO chairman Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin said that the party was strengthened now that the charges against their senior leader Musa Aman have been dropped.
Bung Moktar continued, "Even though it is difficult to predict, I think we will see many surprises this month. Sabah UMNO is ready for anything."
However, Musa's acquittal has drawn criticism and concerns from several opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) and prominent Malaysian figures
Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad questioned whether all 46 charges could be acquitted without a single case.
He further compared the 2018 charge of Fahmi Reza (over a clown sketch of Datuk Seri Najib Razak) to Musa's own, claiming that Musa's was quite "light".
Sim Tze Tzin, MP for Bayan Baru, expressed his surprise over the court's decision saying, "Just wow…!"
Najwan Halimi, who is currently chief of Selangor Parti Keadilan Rakyat's (PKR) Youth wing, sarcastically noted that Musa's acquittal was "The peak of Perikatan Nasional's (PN) 100 days in government".
Malaysiakini journalist Norman Goh tweeted a checklist that listed a series of cases where the defendant was let off, asking "What's next?"
Political graphic designer Fahmi Reza uploaded an image depicting Musa Aman as a clown next to the title "Free! Free!"
He wrote that this was "Happy news for the people of Sabah" despite a smaller caption reading "46 charges of corruption and money laundering."