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September 26, 2017

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Malaysia sand smuggling swoop nets 34 for bribery

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia's national graft-fighting watchdog arrested scores of government employees and business officials for allegedly accepting bribes and sexual favors to help smuggle sand out of the country, an official said Thursday.

The crackdown is the latest bid by the government's Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to repair its reputation, which took a big hit last year when an opposition activist died under mysterious circumstances after being interrogated by anti-graft officials.

Opposition leaders have accused the commission of using brutality against suspects and failing to successfully investigate corruption cases. The commission's new chairman took over Jan. 1 and pledged to restore its credibility.

Commission officers have arrested 34 people — including political aides, civil servants and business officials — since Tuesday in a crackdown on illegal sand mining and smuggling in several states, a commission official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to make public statements.

The suspects allegedly received bribes totaling 280,000 ringgit ($83,000) to facilitate illegal sand mining and smuggling to a neighboring country, the official said. Some also allegedly received "sexual favors," the official said without elaborating.

The commission declined to provide details on who gave the bribes and where the sand was sent.

The suspects could be charged with bribery, which carries a maximum prison term of 20 years, the commission official said. Further arrests are expected.

The crackdown began last week when the commission arrested an irrigation department worker involved in sand mining, the official said. A court sentenced the man to five months in prison earlier this week after he pleaded guilty to receiving 6,000 ringgit ($1,800) to help secure a permit to mine river sand.

Critics say the Anti-Corruption Commission has a low success rate in investigating and prosecuting cases. Some have also accused the commission of often targeting opposition politicians. Commission officials have denied any bias and insist they are doing their best to curb graft.

The commission came under heavy scrutiny last year when an opposition activist fell to his death from the commission's 14th-floor office after being questioned there. A government-ordered inquest is investigating the death.

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