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Malaysian top judges quit as Mahathir Mohamad’s new government cleans house

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Malaysian top judges quit as Mahathir Mohamad’s new government cleans house

Chief Justice Raus Sharif and appeal court president Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin are to step down on July 31

 

Malaysia’s top two judges are resigning, court officials said Wednesday, the latest senior public servants to leave their posts since the former government lost power.

Chief Justice Raus Sharif and appeal court president Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin are to step down on July 31, a judiciary statement said.

They are the latest senior officials to quit, or be forced from, their jobs since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad won a shock election victory last month on a pledge to clean up a government beset by scandal and other abuses.

The attorney general and central bank governor have both left their jobs after allegations related to a scandal surrounding sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Ousted former prime minister Najib Razak, his family and cronies were accused of plundering billions of dollars from the fund in a sophisticated fraud.

Najib, who has been questioned by anti-graft investigators twice over the controversy since losing power, and 1MDB deny any wrongdoing.

The judiciary statement said the judges’ resignations were approved by the king on June 8, as is required by law for such senior legal posts.

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“His Majesty the King had given his assent to their resignation on June 8,” the statement read.

The judges had their terms extended last year despite exceeding the legal retirement age of 66 for their posts, in a move that sparked protests from Mahathir – then in the opposition – and the legal community.

Critics say the independence of Malaysia’s judiciary has been eroded steadily over the years.

Mahathir, who is 92 and serving as premier for the second time, is himself accused of starting the process of weakening the courts in the 1980s during his first period in office.

Last week, Malaysia appointed a new attorney general who said there would be “no cover ups” and that he would pursue criminal and civil action over a graft scandal at 1MDB, which was founded by Najib.

The new attorney general, Tommy Thomas, was brought in to replace Mohamed Apandi Ali, who in 2016 cleared Najib of any wrongdoing in the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal.

Central bank governor Muhammad Ibrahim also resigned last week, just two years into his five-year term.

Muhammad’s exit is seen as a fallout from the 1MDB scandal, after the finance ministry said last month that about US$500 million raised from a land sale by the government to the central bank was used to pay 1MDB’s liabilities last year.

The US Department of Justice has alleged that more than US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB, and about US$700 million of that went to Najib’s personal bank accounts.

Thomas also said he had signed mutual legal assistance requests from Switzerland, the United States, France and UAE regarding the 1MDB probe.

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