Malaysia minister stumbles over $7,600 car plate

Posted at 06/08/12 12:30 PM

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - A Malaysian minister has provoked outrage with a $7,600 bid for a special number plate for his official car, at first saying he did not know who had paid for the item, then claiming it was free.

Malaysia's Road Transport Department (RTD) has sold off plates prefixed WWW -- an Internet-related allusion to technology -- to raise funds.

It released a list of winning tenders, showing Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai had secured "WWW 15" with a bid of 24,200 ringgit ($7,600).

But with questions being asked over whether official funds were being spent on a vanity acquisition, Liow reportedly at first said he did not know who paid the money as he had asked his officials to secure the plate.

Then late Wednesday Liow tweeted that the RTD had told him there was no need for payment.

"I have received official notification from RTD that the number plate is free. There is no payment involved. Any further Qs pls refer to RTD. TQ," he wrote.

Road Transport Department officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The department announced last week that it had made 12 million ringgit through selling the plates. The highest bid was from the sultan of the southern state of Johor, who offered 520,000 ringgit for "WWW 1".

Police are investigating an opposition lawmaker for sedition after he tweeted the sultan's investment could have been used for the benefit of the poor.

"Rm520k can be spent to help Johor's Malays, many of who are still poor and need help," Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party wrote in Malay.

The sultan's son responded that none of the public funds allocated to the royal family were used, and the lawmaker has apologised.

Under Malaysian law it is a crime to "excite disaffection" against the country's nine royal families, who each benefit from substantial government allowances.

Opposition and activists frequently highlight reports of government unaccountability and corruption in Malaysia. Prime Minister Najib Razak has pledged to crack down on graft.

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