Thursday, March 12, 2009

Umno rocked by bribery probe

KUALA LUMPUR - THE ruling party was rocked on Thursday by a high-level investigation involving bribery allegations and a prominent minister preparing to run in a party election that will shape Malaysia's next administration.

In a vaguely worded statement on Thursday, the Tourism Ministry said 'some of its personnel have been asked to provide statements' to assist the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in its investigations.

It denied that any offence has occurred, but said the ministry will 'extend its cooperation in all investigations', including a probe into misuse of ministry funds.

The New Straits Times daily reported last week that 11 people have been questioned. Among them is Tourism Minister Azalina Othman Said's political secretary, who was allegedly found with RM70,000(S$29,000) cash - purportedly ministry funds - in his car, it said.

The probe puts Ms Azalina in the spotlight as she prepares to contest a post in the ruling party's powerful Supreme Council during the March 24-28 elections. The Supreme Council takes all major party decisions.

The investigation has revived complaints that elections to the top posts in the ruling United Malays National Organisation party are usually tainted by bribery, with contestants paying huge sums of money to delegates to win votes.

The anti-corruption commission has not commented on the case.

The opposition dismissed the probe as the result of a power struggle in the ruling party.

The probe is simply 'a tool for the ruling clique to engage in their own games and power struggle', said Tian Chua of the opposition People's Justice Party.

The Umno elections will choose top officer bearers, who hold important positions in the government. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak is contesting the post of party president unopposed.

Once elected, he will also become the prime minister and replace Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is stepping down to take responsibility for the party's dismal election showing in March 2008. -- AP

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