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Mahathir: 'Yes, we gave Mugabe timber'


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By Sean Young

MALAYSIA'S former prime minister has confirmed the country gave Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe timber to build a new mansion, but denied it was a misuse of public assets.

Mugabe, denying that taxpayers were footing the bill for the 25-bedroom private mansion in his economically troubled country, said in an interview last month that former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad arranged for timber to be provided for its construction near the capital, Harare.

"We have had assistance of course, some countries have donated, they have got some timber from Malaysia thanks to my good friend, former Prime Minister Mahathir," Mugabe told Britain's Sky News TV. "The Chinese also have donated tiles and so on."

Mahathir, who ruled this Southeast Asian country for 22 years before retiring last October, and who enjoyed a close personal relationship with Mugabe, said he thought the Zimbabwean leader's claim was true.

'I think we did'

"Yes, I think we did" supply timber for the mansion, Mahathir told reporters late on Thursday.

"We provide timber for a lot of people," Mahathir said. "He wasn't a criminal at that time. He hasn't been put in jail. So what's wrong with giving timber to the leader of a country?"

Asked if the gift could be interpreted as a misuse of public funds, Mahathir said: "No, we give timber to everybody because we want to promote Malaysian timber."

Mahathir didn't give details of the arrangement, and it's unclear exactly when the timber was provided.

Malaysia is rich in tropical forests and is one of the world's largest timber exporters.

Malaysian opposition leaders and anti-corruption activists have demanded the deal be investigated for impropriety. Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said Mahathir's successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, should give a full explanation to Parliament.

"Even though Mugabe has not been put in jail, he is infamous for violations of good democratic governance," Lim said.

The gift could harm Malaysia's international reputation because it would identify the country "with one of the world's worst leaders," Lim said.

Mugabe has said in the past he considers Mahathir a close personal friend. Both men often voiced what were widely considered to be anti-Western views and led developing countries that were former British colonies.

Mugabe has visited Malaysia several times - for official and private trips - since coming to power in 1980.

Reports surfaced in Zimbabwe last year, while Mahathir was still in power, that Malaysia offered asylum to Mugabe if he chose to leave Zimbabwe amid a political crisis. Malaysia denied the reports.
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