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Malaysian opposition figure cries foul over indictment

A vocal critic of the Malaysian prime minister has been charged with corruption in a further blow to the country's opposition. But government critics have said the charges are baseless and politically motivated.

Malaysian authorities charged a senior federal opposition leader Lim Guan Eng on Thursday with two counts of abuse of power. It's a move government critics said is part of a crack down on opponents of Prime Minister Najib Razak's administration.

"The Najib administration is now abusing all its... power to politically persecute its leaders to cripple the opposition before the general election," Tony Pua, the opposition Democratic Action Party's national spokesman said.

Lim, who has repeatedly demanded that Najib explain a massive financial scandal that engulfed his administration last year, was arraigned in the High Court in the northern Penang state.

"I am alright," a smiling Lim told reporters as he arrived at the court to plead not guilty. He was released on bail but, if convicted, faces up to 20 years in prison.

Lim, 55, has been chief minister of Penang state since 2008 and has led the DAP since 2004.

Lim launched a campaign to halt official corruption, and has, by many accounts, injected new vigor into Malaysia's second-richest state.

But currently his criticism has been blunted while the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigates the charges against Lim. One relates to the alleged improper change of use of public land to allow development. The other is tied to the purchase of a house by Lim, allegedly below market price.

Allegations of corruption at the top

Malaysia Premierminister Najib Abdul Razak

Prime Minister Najib Razak has routinely shut down domestic investigations and sidelined critics to shore up his hold on power

The prime minister recently fended off more serious charges. They included an allegation, which emerged last year, that he received at least $681 million (613 million euros) in deposits to his personal bank accounts in 2013.

But Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali cleared Najib in January of any corruption or criminal offenses, saying that the hundreds of millions was a "gift" from a member of Saudi Arabia's royal family and that most of it was returned.

Malaysia's opposition has been in disarray since the jailing of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy last year. The three-party Pakatan Rakyat alliance, which was already barely effectual before Anwar went to prison, has since ceased to function.

jar/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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