Malaysia tourism official acquitted of corruption

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP): A Malaysian court acquitted a top tourism official charged with accepting free medical treatment in exchange for possible contracts, news reports said Saturday.

Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, head of Malaysia's tourism promotion board, has been one of the most senior bureaucrats to face corruption charges in recent years amid pledges by the government to stamp out graft. Few prominent officials have been convicted so far.

Mirza pleaded innocent in August last year to a charge of accepting free dental treatment, worth almost 14,000 ringgit (US$4,200), in 2005 from a company that he allegedly gave contracts to.

Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court Judge Zainal Abidin Kamarudin ruled Friday that the prosecution had not proven its case against Mirza, The Star and New Straits Times newspapers reported.

The judge said prosecution lawyers failed to call key witnesses or prove any criminal intention by Mirza, according to the reports. Mirza's lawyer and court officials familiar with the case could not immediately be reached Saturday.

Mirza was suspended from his post after being charged. He faced up to two years in prison if convicted.

Opposition critics have long accused the government of letting corruption go unchecked–from police officers asking for bribes to overlook traffic offenses to huge state contracts awarded in a non-transparent manner.

Activists say even though the government's anti-graft agency has become more active in recent years, it has failed to successfully prosecute cases involving higher-ranking people and larger sums of money.