The director of Malaysia's Special Branch, Mohamed Said Awang, was giving evidence at the trial of Anwar Ibrahim, the former minister whose sacking and arrest have provoked demonstrations against the government of Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister.
Mr Anwar has been charged with multiple counts of sodomy and corruption. Yesterday's testimony was intended to demonstrate that he abused his position as deputy prime minister to quash rumours of his sexual misconduct.
Mr Mohamed's acknowledgement of police intimidation, based on requests from senior politicians and judgements about "national security", has implications beyond the present case and confirms some of the worst suspicions about Malaysian justice.
Mr Mohamed described events in August 1997, when "poison pen" letters surfaced in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. One came from a former chauffeur of Mr Anwar, claiming that he had been repeatedly sodomised by his boss, and one was from the sister-in-law of one of the minister's alleged mistresses.
According to the policeman, he was urged by Mr Anwar to find them quickly and to interview them. "He used the word gempar. That word means to surprise them and to put fear in them. He told us that if we manage to arrest these two, he didn't want them to be detained for long and that he wanted us to question them deeply as to why they wrote the letter.
"He also wanted us to ensure that there was no publicity, that they should be retracting in writing. Looking at the political climate, the economic climate then, I decided we cannot afford to have any instability in terms of security."
Mr Mohamed instructed his officers to call in the two witnesses and conduct "a turning over" operation. "Basically we do a quick assessment on our target, then we see how the possibilities are to turn over their stand. If it is a certain political stand, we may neutralise the stand if it is a security threat."
He said his junior officers were convinced there was some truth in the allegations against Mr Anwar, but he insisted that they proceed with the "turning over" and even sent back the original retractions because he was not satisfied with them. "I wanted it to be more committed," he said. Asked why he did this, Mr Mohamed said: "The direction I received was from the deputy prime minister."
If true, the allegations will damage Mr Anwar, a popular leader who has projected himself as a devout Muslim and a champion of the poor. However, the admission that police allow themselves to be manipulated by politicians also adds credibility to Mr Anwar's claims that the trial is a set-up, intended to ruin his political career.
The commander of Indonesia's armed forces yesterday denied allegations in an official report accusing army units of instigating the riots in Jakarta that led to the resignation of President Suharto last May.Reuse content