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Malaysia’s ex-finance minister faces 2 fresh graft charges

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 11 (Net) — Malaysia's former finance minister pleaded not guilty Friday to two new corruption charges, saying the legal moves against him were politically motivated ahead of impending elections.
Lim Guan Eng was charged last month with three counts of corruption linked to his tenure as Penang state chief minister from 2008-2018, before he became finance minister. His lawyer wife is also accused of receiving unlawful proceeds linked to a Penang project.
Lim said two new charges against him Friday for misappropriating Penang state property worth 208.7 million ringgit ($50.2 million) were a desperate act timed ahead of Sept. 26 elections in Sabah state.
"It is completely baseless and politically motivated, and timed to tarnish my image and smear my reputation in the run-up to Sabah elections ... and also maybe impending general elections," he told a news conference after the hearing.
Lim was part of a reformist government ousted in March. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's new administration is supported by graft-tainted parties that were defeated in the 2018 general election.
Although national polls are not due till 2023, Muhyiddin is under pressure from allies in his Malay-centric government to call for snap elections as his coalition has only a thin two-seat majority in Parliament.
He will face his first test this month with elections in opposition-ruled Sabah state on Borneo island, where the local government sought to thwart attempts by his coalition to take over by getting lawmakers to defect.
Friday's charges against Lim are related to a $1.5 billion undersea tunnel project planned in Penang. Lim was first charged last month with soliciting 10% of potential profits as a bribe for the project, and abusing power as Penang chief minister to obtain 3.3 million ringgit ($793.746) as inducement to help a local company secure the construction contract.
He was separately accused of abuse of power to obtain gratification for his wife related to a workers' dormitory project. His wife Betty Chew pleaded not guilty to receiving 372,009 ringgit ($89,479) in unlawful proceeds linked to the same project. She has said the money was her legal fees.
Lim accused the anti-graft agency of being a tool of the new government to persecute the opposition and vowed to clear his name in court.