Malaysia’s ‘Casio king’ charged as PM Anwar’s corruption probe nets another Mahathir ally

Anti-corruption officials on Wednesday charged a Malaysian tycoon, dubbed the “Casio King”, with making false declarations to win a US$840 million contract to run the government’s fleet of vehicles, making him the latest businessman to be entangled in a graft sweep targeting the relatives and associates of former leader Mahathir Mohamad.
The 98-year-old two-time prime minister has said the widening probe into his allies and family members is a political hit-job steered by incumbent Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to exact revenge on his long-time rival.
Former finance minister and close Mahathir associate, Daim Zainuddin, and his wife Nai’mah Abdul Khalid, were charged in January for failing to declare their assets. Mahathir’s two eldest sons have also been asked to declare their assets accumulated since 1981 – the year Mahathir first took power.

Anwar’s purge? Malaysia’s corruption crackdown has PM’s rivals in its sights

In the latest case, public prosecutors on Wednesday accused prominent businessman Robert Tan Hua Choon of misleading the finance ministry in 2019 into granting his company, Spanco, a supply, repair, maintenance and management contract for the federal government’s vehicle fleet, worth nearly 4 billion ringgit (US$840 million).

In their charge sheet, prosecutors said Tan had allegedly “cheated the finance ministry” by misleadingly claiming his firm had set aside at least 30 per cent equity stake for the country’s Malay majority, which is a general government contract requirement.

The 83-year-old businessman, widely seen as close to Daim, enjoyed a long and lucrative distribution monopoly of Casio watches, earning him the moniker Casio King.

Tan claimed trial. He faces up to 10 years in jail, possible whipping and a fine if found guilty, according to his charge sheet. Spanco reportedly signed a 4.5 billion ringgit deal in 2020 to manage the federal government’s fleet of vehicles over a 15-year period.

Previously, the firm ran a 25-year multibillion ringgit concession starting in 1993 – at the height of Mahathir’s first term as prime minister – to supply and manage the federal government’s vehicle fleet.

Tan had in the early 1970s secured sole distribution rights to Casio products, building an empire over the decades that eventually led to the listing of his main firm, Marco Holdings, on the Malaysian exchange’s main board.

A Casio G-Shock outlet in Kuala Lumpur. Robert Tan had in the early 1970s secured sole distribution rights in Malaysia to Casio products. Photo: Shutterstock
Last week, Mahathir’s two sons revealed they had been called in by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) as witnesses for a graft probe that placed their father as “the primary suspect”.

“We did ask, ‘What is the investigation on my father about?’ They were not able to furnish us with that information,” Mokhzani Mahathir, 63, said in a Bloomberg report. “Can you imagine you’re being asked to provide information to be used to prosecute your parent?”

The MACC in January ordered Mokhzani and his 65-year-old brother Mirzan – both tycoons in their own right – to declare their assets dating back to 1981 as part of investigations into leaks of offshore business records that were revealed in recent years by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a global media network.

Mahathir had at the time accused Anwar of selective persecution in the probes involving his sons, especially as it came just months after Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and MACC chief Azam Baki were cleared of corruption in separate cases.

The nonagenarian, who was discharged last week after spending nearly two months in hospital to treat an infection, has challenged the government to go straight after him instead of his family.

“I am prepared to be investigated. I can tell you which bank accounts, everything. The government can have access. But don’t make use of government law in order to threaten people,” Mahathir said in January, in a warning to Anwar.

Mahathir ‘the primary suspect’ in Malaysia’s anti-corruption probe, sons say

Critics have described the ongoing corruption purge as payback by Anwar, who was sacked by Mahathir as his deputy in 1998 and later jailed on charges of corruption and sodomy.

Anwar, who was jailed a second time for sodomy in 2015, was released on a royal pardon in 2018 after Mahathir rose to an unprecedented second premiership on the back of the former’s Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Anwar and his supporters have denied all charges.

Corruption crackdowns, however, appear to have received royal approval. King Ibrahim Iskandar, who rose to the throne in late January, on Tuesday marked the end of his two-month “honeymoon” by gifting MACC chief Azam a pot of honey.

“As I said previously, my honeymoon is over, now go catch the bees,” King Ibrahim said in a Facebook post, referring to what he told Azam.

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