Judge shifts goalposts in Anwar trial

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A MALAYSIAN judge amended four corruption charges against the country's ousted finance minister Anwar Ibrahim yesterday, prompting the former cabinet member to protest he had been unfairly smeared by sex allegations.

"They already stripped me naked. Now they are amending the charges," a fuming Mr Anwar said during a break in his sex and corruption trial, which is now in its 10th week.

Mr Anwar was sacked and arrested in September, and later indicted on five counts each of corruption and sodomy. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Prosecutors said their amendments involved only changes in the wording and did not alter the thrust of the corruption charges under initial examination at the High Court.

But the defence team said they narrowed the focus of the charges after the prosecution had spent over two months producing sordid testimony. Mr Anwar's chief counsel, Raja Aziz Raja Addruse, said the prosecutors were now trying to avoid proving the allegations of sexual misconduct and sodomy. "They are seeking to procure a lower onus of proof," he said.

Legal experts said the prosecution was entitled to the move, but questioned its timing and motive. "The prosecution has the right to amend charges whenever it wishes, but many people are wondering why they have done so at this stage," an independent lawyer said.

Others asked why government lawyers had shamed Mr Anwar with lurid testimony if they had no intention of proving it. "I don't know whether it was more for public consumption." said R R Chelvarajah, vice-president of the Malaysian Bar Council.

High Court Judge Augustine Paul, who is both judge and jury in the trial at the centre of the current political turbulence in Malaysia, sided with the prosecution. "I'm of the view that it's no real substantive change," the judge said.

Mr Anwar's defence team countered later in the day, announcing that they planned to call the Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, and three other cabinet ministers as witnesses in the trial. (Reuters)