Mahathir’s Shadow: Analyzing the Allegations Against Daim Zainuddin in Malaysia’s Corruption Crackdown

In the wake of the Pandora Papers revelation, Malaysia is vigorously conducting multiple high-profile investigations. Despite the government’s stance against corruption, Political analysts highlight the long-standing political rivalry between Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and Mahathir Mohammed as the key driving force behind these ongoing probes. The emphasis on Daim Zinuddin, the politician’s closest associate, and Mirzan, Mahathir’s eldest son, underscores the significant impact of this entrenched political feud on the investigations.

Anwar Ibrahim, Daim Zainuddin, and Mahathir Mohammed were formerly affiliated within the Umno Party. Despite their prior association, Daim sided with Mahathir when Anwar was ousted from his position as deputy prime minister in 1998, leading to Anwar’s incarceration on corruption and sodomy charges during Mahathir’s tenure. The present prime minister and his supporters currently challenge these allegations, asserting their inaccuracy. This has spawned an enduring conflict that continues to influence Malaysian politics.

Financial information leaked by the Pandora Papers names Daim, his wife Naimah, and their two sons as recipients of US$52.5 million in trust-owned assets, including properties in the US and the UK. Last Thursday, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) declared that investigations, which were started in August 2022, cover every entity mentioned in the Pandora Papers as well as those listed in the 2016 Panama Papers leak. Anti-corruption agents recently took over a building owned by Daim’s family as part of their investigation.

In response to the MACC investigation, Daim mounted a legal challenge, vehemently denying any wrongdoing and asserting that his wealth was acquired through legitimate business activities predating his entry into politics. His affidavit argued that had he remained solely in business without actively expanding his assets, the value of his liquid stock holdings alone would now surpass 50 billion ringgit (US$10.5 billion). Following his wife’s charges, it is anticipated that Daim will be the next individual to face trial.

Naimah Abdul Khalid, the spouse of Daim Zainuddin, openly criticized Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, on Tuesday. Speaking to reporters at the Kuala Lumpur court, Naimah contended that Anwar was using the corruption crackdown as a guise to settle scores with political adversaries. Accused of manipulating the country’s anti-corruption agency and top prosecutor for a political vendetta, she underscored the transient nature of power, cautioning Anwar that those who misuse it will face consequences. Naimah made these statements after being charged with failing to disclose her assets as part of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) investigation into her family’s wealth. Naimah stands as the first individual to face charges in connection with the corruption crackdown.

Mahathir has also characterized the ongoing investigations as selective persecution, even suggesting that the MACC overlooked allegations from 1999, accusing Anwar of concealing substantial sums in various accounts. In response, the MACC refuted Mahathir’s claims on Wednesday, asserting that a thorough investigation was initiated during his prime ministership, and there is no case against Anwar. 

The MACC has expanded its investigation to include Mahathir’s eldest son, Mirzan, scrutinizing his involvement in the sale and purchase of government-linked companies and information disclosed in the Panama Papers. Mirzan, aged 66, who possesses stakes in the Philippine energy company Petron and its parent firm San Miguel, has been instructed to disclose his assets to the MACC by mid-February.

The enduring political feud between Mahathir and Anwar is evidently a significant driving force behind the recent investigations. The Pandora Papers have presented Anwar with an opportunity, and he is strategically leveraging it, whether perceived positively or negatively in the political arena. However, from an anti-corruption perspective, these investigations offer hope for a country grappling with severe corruption.