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Mahathir's sons say 98-year-old father is target of probe

Bloomberg • 5 min read
Mahathir's sons say 98-year-old father is target of probe
Mokhzani Mahathir — former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's son / Photo: The Edge Malaysia
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Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s two eldest sons said Malaysia’s anti-graft agency ordered them to assist with an investigation into their father, revealing for the first time that a months-long probe is targeting the 98-year-old former prime minister.

“My father is the primary suspect,” Mokhzani Mahathir, 63, said in a March 23 interview in Kuala Lumpur. “We are witnesses to whatever it is that they’re investigating.”

In January, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) ordered Mokhzani and his elder brother Mirzan, 65, to declare their assets dating back to 1981, the year Mahathir became prime minister. The orders are part of investigations into offshore business records revealed by a journalism consortium, the MACC said at the time, without mentioning that the main target was Mahathir.

A spokesperson for the MACC said it was unable to comment on or confirm Mokhzani’s comments. Mahathir’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

The brothers are assisting in the investigation, but the task is onerous and taking time, they said in the interview, which Mirzan joined by video call. Both have received two extensions of the original February deadlines for compliance.

The MACC hasn’t provided the brothers with any details of the investigation into Mahathir, according to Mokhzani.

See also: Malaysian PM, Berjaya Corp and Genting Group deny Forest City report on Bloomberg

“We did ask, ‘What is the investigation on my father about?’ and they were not able to furnish us with that information,” Mokhzani said. “Can you imagine you’re being asked to provide information to be used to prosecute your parent?”

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who finally became prime minister in 2022 after falling short of the top job for decades, is a former protege of Mahathir who was seen as his successor but later fell out with him. Mahathir dismissed Anwar from all government posts in 1998 and Anwar was later imprisoned on corruption and sodomy charges, which he denied. The developments shocked the nation and turned Anwar into an opposition figure who pushed for democratic reforms.

Anwar’s government faced criticism from opposition parties and civil-society groups last year after the attorney general withdrew 47 criminal charges against Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, a key ally in the ruling coalition. Anwar has denied interfering in the case or in the MACC’s investigations.

See also: Berjaya Corp lodges police report to identify 'unnamed source' in Forest City casino resort debacle

Anwar’s press office declined to comment.

Mahathir, who led Malaysia for nearly a quarter century in two different stints, said at a press briefing in January — conducted before Mokhzani was ordered to declare his assets — that the probe involving his son Mirzan was politically motivated. Just days after he spoke to reporters, Mahathir was admitted to the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur, where he was hospitalised for 53 days. He was discharged last week.

Mahathir’s sons said they’re working with company secretaries and accountants to file the asset declarations.

“This is a near impossible task, to go back all that way,” Mokhzani said, adding he was still a student in the UK in 1981. “We can’t remember exactly how things were back then,” he said, adding that everything was in the form of physical records and not digitised.

The political wrangling has had a limited impact on markets.

Malaysia’s ringgit is Asia’s top performer this month, after the central bank urged government-linked companies and funds to repatriate their overseas income and convert it to the local currency. This helped to turn around the performance of the currency, which was the worst performer in Southeast Asia after the Thai baht in the first two months of the year, mainly weighed down by the weaker outlook of China, Malaysia’s main trading partner, as well as from a wide policy rate differential with the Fed.

Although Malaysia’s benchmark stock index has fallen in five of the past six years, the weak performance has abated to an extent in 2024. The KLCI index is up more than 5%, as authorities attempt to stabilise the ringgit.

To stay ahead of Singapore and the region’s corporate and economic trends, click here for Latest Section

MACC is also investigating Tun Daim Zainuddin, a former finance minister and close aide to Mahathir. Both Daim and his wife, Toh Puan Na’imah Abdul Khalid, were charged in January for not declaring their assets, which include the 60-story Ilham Tower building in Kuala Lumpur that the agency seized in December. They both pleaded not guilty. In response to questions for this story, Nai’mah said she and her husband didn’t have anything further to add.

Mahathir and Anwar reunited in the 2018 election to oust former PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak in the wake of the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal. Mahathir became prime minister for the second time, and made an agreement to hand over the premiership to Anwar at an unspecified date. But squabbling within the coalition, including over when Mahathir would step aside as prime minister, helped bring down the administration in 2020.

In May last year, Mahathir filed a RM150 million defamation suit against Anwar, alleging the current PM had accused him of enriching himself and his family members during his time as prime minister. The suit came after Anwar said that a person who has been in power twice was taking everything for his family. Anwar has filed a statement of defense and is seeking to strike out Mahathir’s legal suit.

“Anwar has said that I have stolen government money,” Mahathir said in a press conference on Jan 22. “As far as I know, I haven’t stolen a single cent.”

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