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[KUALA LUMPUR] A Malaysian parliament member was charged Friday with leaking state secrets over a financial scandal linked to the prime minister, drawing accusations that the government was abusing its power to silence whistle-blowers.
Rafizi Ramli, vice-president of the opposition People's Justice Party, was charged with violating Malaysia's Official Secrets Act and defamation, members of his party said.
Rafizi, who pleaded not guilty, last week revealed classified information that he said indicated an army pension fund was having difficulty making payments to veterans due to financial problems linked to a troubled state investment company.
The investment company, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), has faced a cascade of allegations that billions were looted from it in a vast campaign of fraud and embezzlement stretching from the Middle East to the Caymans.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, who founded 1MDB in 2009, has come under fire over the company's woes and his own acceptance of a mysterious US$681 million payment.
Critics said the charges against Rafizi marked another example of Mr Najib's government - which has moved to scuttle investigations and stifle media reporting of the scandal - attempting to prevent more revelations from emerging.
Human Rights Watch called the charges "shocking".
"The Malaysia government is putting another nail in the coffin of government transparency and accountability, and clearly violating Rafizi's rights," its deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.
1MDB denies charges that billions of dollars of its funds were plundered, and Mr Najib also steadfastly denies wrongdoing.
But a parliamentary committee which presented its findings on an inquiry into 1MDB on Thursday said the company made more than US$3 billion in unexplained overseas payments and called for its former CEO to be investigated.
Rafizi, who had been arrested outside parliament's gates on Tuesday, is a noted whistle-blower on graft by Malaysia's longtime ruling coalition and has faced similar charges before.