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Former Malaysian finance minister charged following Pandora Papers revelations

Daim Zainuddin is among several high-profile Malaysians whose offshore wealth has come under scrutiny by Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency.

Malaysian authorities have charged former finance minister Daim Zainuddin and his wife for failing to disclose assets, as part of an anti-corruption probe stemming from Pandora Papers revelations.

Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission began investigating Daim and his associates in 2023 after Malaysiakini, a media partner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, exposed their ties to several British Virgin Islands companies and trusts holding assets worth $31 million. The findings were part of the 2021 Pandora Papers investigation led by ICIJ and based on a trove of nearly 12 million records leaked from 14 offshore financial services providers.

Daim, an 85-year-old businessman who served as finance minister from 1984 to 1991 and from 1999 to 2001, has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty. Last week, he entered court in a wheelchair and was granted bail after his lawyer cited health issues, according to Reuters.

His wife Naimah Khalid has also pleaded not guilty.

The couple is now seeking a court order to quash the charges, Malaysian media reported.

MACC said its officials are also looking into another offshore family trust, worth an estimated $52.5 million, recently uncovered by ICIJ and Malaysiakini. The Cayman Islands-registered trust, which lists Naimah and Daim’s two youngest sons as beneficiaries, was used to invest in U.K. and U.S. properties, according to documents obtained by ICIJ.

In a statement, Naimah said the assets “were the product of legitimate business and investment activities, going back long before Daim joined politics in 1984.”

Daim faces up to five years in prison and a fine if found guilty of not declaring 71 assets, including luxury cars, real estate, and dozens of companies, according to Malaysiakini. The list did not include assets held overseas.

“We will try our best to get all the evidence, including from overseas, and this is one of the challenges that we are facing,” MACC chief Azam Baki told local reporters, adding that the agency had not set a deadline to complete its work.

Last year, investigators seized a 60-story skyscraper in Kuala Lumpur and froze bank accounts belonging to the Daim family.

The high-profile MACC probe is part of a sweeping government crackdown on corruption that has targeted several former politicians and their families.

MACC told Malaysian media that it had initiated inquiries into “all those associated and named” in both the Pandora Papers and the Panama Papers, another trove of leaked financial records at the center of a 2016 investigation by ICIJ and its media partners around the world.

The agency said it has so far questioned 10 people, including Daim, based on information uncovered in the two ICIJ investigations.

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Last month, the agency asked Mirzan Mahathir, the eldest son of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, to declare all of his income since 1981, when his father was first elected.

Panama Papers documents examined by Malaysiakini in 2016, showed that Mirzan, a businessman, was listed as the shareholder of a British Virgin Islands company named Sergio International Ltd. in 2002. A representative for Mirzan told reporters at the time that Mirzan was not involved with the company.

ICIJ’s 2013 Offshore Leaks investigation found he was also the director and shareholder of three companies based in Labuan, a tax haven in Malaysia.

On Jan. 17, 2024, Mirzan was given 30 days to declare his assets to MACC.

His father Mahathir held office for 22 years before stepping down in 2003, then served again as prime minister from 2018 to 2020. He now supports the opposition Malay-Islamic alliance and reportedly criticized the anti-corruption blitz as politically motivated.

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