Malaysia anti-graft agency questions ex-PM Ismail in $150 million publicity spending probe

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s anti-graft investigators have questioned former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob as part of a probe into possible misconduct involving some 700 million ringgit ($150.86 million) spent on government publicity during a previous administration.

In a statement late Wednesday, the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) said it had recorded a statement from Ismail Sabri in relation to the alleged spending, without providing further details.

A representative for Ismail Sabri did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The questioning of Ismail comes amid a widening crackdown by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on alleged graft among top politicians, though some critics have accused the premier of targeting rivals.

Last month, the MACC said it was investigating former finance minister Daim Zainuddin and key ally of ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad, based on information contained in the Pandora Papers – a massive leak of financial records in 2021 which revealed offshore assets held by politicians and public figures worldwide.  

The MACC on Wednesday said it had also questioned Daim’s wife Naimah Khalid and his two sons as part of its probe.

Daim has described the probe against him as a “political witch hunt”, while his wife told reporters on Wednesday that the ex-minister was being targeted for his success as a businessman.

Anwar and Mahathir have been locked in a decades-long off-on rivalry that saw Anwar, a one-time protege of the elder statesman, jailed for sodomy and corruption, charges he said were politically motivated.

Anwar was pardoned and became prime minister in 2022, after over two decades as an opposition leader, vowing to combat corruption and focus on the economy.

But a string of dropped corruption cases involving figures allied to his coalition has raised questions over Anwar’s commitment to fighting graft, with lawmakers and analysts warning it could risk alienating voters and jeopardise his reform agenda.

($1 = 4.6400 ringgit)

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Kim Coghill and Michael Perry)