Malaysian protesters demand resignation of anti-graft chief

Light Strike Force team from the Royal Malaysian Police (LSF) stand at attention during a rally of “Arrest Azam Baki” in Kuala Lumpur on January 22, 2022.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | Hundreds of Malaysians rallied in the capital Saturday, demanding the country's powerful anti-graft chief resign over a stock trading controversy where he owned millions of shares. 

Wearing masks and shouting "reject corruption", the mostly black-clad crowd of about two hundred called for immediate action against Azam Baki, the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission's (MACC) top official.

Protests in the Southeast Asian nation have been rare since the beginning of the pandemic due to virus curbs and fears of infection. 

But public anger over corruption has previously led to mass demonstrations and election upsets, with the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal contributing to the longest-governing coalition's downfall in 2018.

Azam, a key investigator into the former regime's looting of the 1MDB state fund, has been under scrutiny for weeks over allegations of improper proxy trading after he admitted to letting his brother use his account. 

Azam has denied any wrongdoing, while Malaysia's securities regulator said this week that he had control of his account at the time of the trades, clearing him. 

But that has not appeased the public. 

"We have come because we cannot allow the practice of corruption to continue," Mohamad Zawawi Ishak, 29, told AFP as a crowd massed in front of a city train station at about 11:00 am (0800 GMT).

"In the fight against corruption, whoever is corrupt, we have to fight." 

Sivaranjani Manickam, 41, said the government was encouraging more corruption by not punishing Azam.

"Anger is making us come out to the streets today to protest," she said.

Police closed several major roads city-wide as dozens of officers, including some in riot gear, tailed the crowd before rally-goers dispersed peacefully less than two hours later.

A MACC veteran of over 36 years, Azam was appointed head of the anti-graft department in 2020 in the midst of efforts to claw back pilfered funds. 

That same year, ex-leader Najib Razak was convicted of corruption and given a 12-year jail term. He is awaiting a final appeal at the country's top court while facing two other ongoing 1MDB-related trials.

© Agence France-Presse

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