KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was arrested by the country's anti-graft agency on Thursday (Oct 18).
He faces several charges linked to the alleged misappropriation of funds from Yayasan Akal Budi, a welfare foundation that he chairs.
Dr Ahmad Zahid, who is also president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), has been called in by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) several times for questioning this year.
Local media have said that he was believed to have abused about RM800,000 (US$197,600) of the foundation’s funds to settle his and his wife’s credit card bills.
He has denied wrongdoing, saying the payments were made in error by an aide and that he has since repaid the amount.
In a statement on Thursday, MACC said Dr Ahmad Zahid was arrested at 3.15pm at the agency's headquarters in Putrajaya.
It added that he faces several charges under the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 and the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001.
He will be charged on Friday at 8am at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court.
The UMNO quickly came to the defence of Dr Ahmad Zahid, who was elected as party chief after May's general election, and said the arrest was politically motivated.
"This action is a strategy to portray Zahid as an untrustworthy and unqualified leader," said Mr Jalaluddin Alias, a member of the party's supreme council.
About 200 of Dr Ahmad Zahid's supporters assembled opposite the MACC headquarters on Thursday night as a sign of solidarity with the UMNO president, Bernama reported.
The group led by the president of Malaysia Baru Observers, Lokman Noor Adam, began assembling from about 8pm. Some of them wore purple t-shirts with the words "Lokap SPRM" (MACC lock-up) to express their dissatisfaction at the detention of Dr Ahmad Zahid.
Dr Ahmad Zahid's wife, Hamidah Khamis and daughter Nurul Hidayah were among those present.
Lokman, also a member of the UMNO Supreme Council, claimed that Dr Ahmad Zahid was detained because he refused to bow to pressure to dissolve UMNO.
"There are UMNO leaders who have been offered position and money by certain parties to leave UMNO,” he said.
Dr Ahmad Zahid, who also served as interior minister in the last government, stuck by former Prime Minister Najib Razak even as other senior figures abandoned him over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad graft scandal.
US authorities say more than US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund, with nearly US$700 million diverted into Najib's personal bank accounts. The ex-leader has denied any wrongdoing.