KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 24 – Facing a court date over his 45 charges for money laundering, criminal breach of trust and abuse of power, Umno President Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has decided to go on the road to meet with party grassroots, The Malaysian Insight reported.
He is expected to start the roadshow this Friday in the PAS-controlled Terengganu and finish it in the other PAS-controlled state, Kelantan, on December 8.
In November, he will visit every other state in Peninsula Malaysia before going over to Sabah on a two-day visit on December 1-2. Other Umno leaders are expected to accompany him across the country.
Roadshow to explain charges against Najib, Zahid
The roadshow is believed to be a chance for him to explain the charges against him and give his side of the story, and to try and rally the grassroots behind him.
This follows some in the Umno supreme council, including party deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hassan, saying Zahid might be asked to go on leave from his party role.
The party’s standard operating procedure requires senior Umno leaders to take leave if they are charged in court.
However, Perak Umno chairman Saarani Ahmad told the news portal that Zahid’s roadshow was only to allay the fears of the grassroots members, who had yet to recover from the party’s crushing defeat in the 14th general election.
“We have gone through defeat. The party has met at the division and branch levels. And then there was the Umno general assembly.
“A lot of things which need explaining have happened, including the arrest and charges against the former and current Umno presidents (Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Zahid, respectively).
“We can’t continue to let our members remain mired in doubt and disconnected. Umno must keep on moving ahead,” he was quoted as saying.
It is also believed to be in response to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad claiming that Umno is heading to an early grave, encouraging party members to join his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia instead.
The road show is also reminiscent of former 1MDB chief Arul Kanda going around the country to “clarify” all the allegations made against Najib and the sovereign fund, earlier this year.
Suspicions over charity foundation run by Zahid’s family
Zahid, 65, was charged over money-laundering, CBT and corruption offences involving more than RM114 million last Friday, most of which involved a charity foundation, Yayasan Akalbudi, that was operated by his family and of which he is the chairman.
The Sessions Court judge set bail at RM2 million, and as in the case of his former boss, Najib and Najib’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Zahid was allowed to have the bail paid in two instalments. RM1 million was paid on the same day with the balance to be paid by this Friday.
The existence of Yayasan Akalbudi had been kept under wraps for many years, until after the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) uncovered its presence when investigating the former deputy prime minister. It has since been reported that the foundation was established in 1997.
He is said to have used RM800,000 of the foundation’s money to settle his credit card bills.
He had previously denied the accusations, saying it was an oversight by his aide, who made the payment from the wrong account, and that he had reimbursed the foundation.
3 Umno MPs now facing money-laundering charges
Zahid is the third sitting MP from Umno and the most senior leader from the party and Barisan Nasional to be hauled to court.
Pekan MP Najib was first, already having several court dates to face money laundering and tax evasion charges, among others, since July. Next was Baling MP Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Rahim, who is also an Umno supreme council member, when he was charged over three counts of money laundering and corruption charges last month.
Umno-linked lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah was also charged with money laundering and tax evasion last month, over RM9.5 million paid out to him by Najib between September 2013 and February 2014.
Several Umno and other Barisan Nasional party leaders have also been questioned over the past four months, mostly related to funds received from Najib, which was said to have been from the infamous RM2.6 billion deposited into the former prime minister’s personal accounts in March 2013.