Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Witnesses put pressure on Anwar

Lisa Murray in Kuala Lumpur
July 8, 2008

THE Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is under renewed pressure as police investigating sodomy allegations say they have statements from 18 witnesses, including doctors who examined his former aide and accuser.

If found guilty, Mr Anwar, who was jailed over similar charges a decade ago, could face another 20 years' jail and a whipping. His accuser, Mohd Saiful, 23, has asked for police protection until the investigation is over.

"He asked for protection and he has the right to do so as a citizen," said the head of the department of criminal investigations, Bakri Zinin, adding that police had already recorded statements from 18 witnesses and would approach more people in coming days. Mr Anwar has yet to be approached by police. Mr Bakri refused to say when he might be contacted.

Mr Anwar told a rally of 20,000 people on Sunday that he would fight the charges. "Believe me, what was alleged 10 years ago is being repeated with malice and slander, and I will not accept this but will fight it to the end."

The new sodomy accusations are just one side of a bizarre political showdown that pits Mr Anwar against the Deputy Prime Minister, Najib Razak. Mr Anwar has accused Mr Razak of masterminding a plot to end his political career at a time when he has enough support to topple the Government.

Mr Razak has also denied claims that he had an affair with a Mongolian woman who was shot in the head, strapped with explosives and blown up in a forest outside Kuala Lumpur in 2006. The claims were made by a private investigator, Balasubramaniam Perumal, as part of a news conference Mr Anwar organised last week.

Mr Balasubramaniam, a former detective with the Malaysian intelligence agency known as the special branch, later retracted his statement, saying it was made under duress. He and his wife and children are now missing, and police have issued an international alert, saying he may have been detained by "interested parties" or in hiding. They have called on him to come forward and explain his conflicting statements. Mr Balasubramaniam's family have told local newspapers they are worried for his safety.

In an election in March opposition parties won a record number of seats in parliament, and need just 30 members to switch allegiance to form government, a feat hitherto considered impossible.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will visit Kuala Lumpur on Thursday on his way back from the Group of Eight meeting in Japan. Mr Rudd is not expected to meet Mr Anwar.