Malaysian opposition whistle-blower charged

The scandal, dubbed "Cowgate", has proven highly embarrassing for Prime Minister Najib Razak (above), who has pledged to stamp out persistent corruption and must call elections by the middle of next year.

KUALA LUMPUR - A Malaysian opposition whistleblower was charged Wednesday over his role in exposing a scandal that has rocked the government, a move the opposition said made a mockery of anti-graft efforts.

Rafizi Ramli, a top strategist for the People's Justice Party led by Anwar Ibrahim, has been the key figure behind exposing a financial scandal involving money allegedly siphoned away from a project aimed at boosting beef output.

He was charged under a provision of the country's Banking and Financial Institutions Act (BAFIA) that restricts disclosure of bank account details.

Rafizi told AFP he and a former bank clerk charged with abetting him had pleaded not guilty in court before being released on bail.

"This government is not prepared to protect whistleblowers, but persecute them instead," he said.

The scandal, dubbed "Cowgate", has proven highly embarrassing for Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has pledged to stamp out persistent corruption and must call elections by the middle of next year.

The National Feedlot Corporation, which was run by family members of then-minister for women's affairs Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, received a 250-million-ringgit (S$100 million) government soft loan to accelerate Malaysian beef production.

But an auditor-general's report last year said it had failed in its objective.

The opposition pounced, alleging some NFC funds were spent on luxury property in Malaysia and Singapore and other purchases including an exclusive car and overseas travel.

Shahrizat resigned under mounting pressure in April and her husband Mohamad Salleh Ismail has been charged with criminal breach of trust over the affair.

He is alleged to have used nearly 50 million ringgit of NFC funds without approval in 2009, including almost 10 million ringgit to buy two apartments in Kuala Lumpur, the independent news portal Malaysiakini reported earlier.

Rafizi is accused of revealing the details of four bank accounts controlled by the NFC and Mohamad Salleh. The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail and three million ringgit fine.

Opposition politicians immediately condemned the charge as likely to deter potential whistleblowers.

"This act by the Malaysian authorities marks a serious blow to the purported anti-corruption campaign launched by (Najib) himself," opposition lawmaker Tony Pua said in a statement.

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