`Smeared' Anwar awaits his fate

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The Independent Online
THE TRIAL of Anwar Ibrahim ended yesterday, amid general expectations that the Malay-sian opposition leader will be convicted of corruption and sent to prison.

At the end of five months of frequently sensational testimony, there is a feeling, even among Mr Anwar's supporters, that the decision of Justice Augustine Paul in the Kuala Lumpur High Court is a foregone conclusion.

"Sir Thomas More, though executed, became a legend and lives on," Gurbachan Singh, one of Mr Anwar's defence lawyers, warned in a written submission. "Needless to say, those who gave perjured evidence against Sir Thomas More were all tried for perjury, found guilty and executed within five years."

Mr Anwar may not face beheading, but the the sentence of two to four years, which he has said he expects to receive, will eliminate him from any role in Malaysian politics in the medium term. Apparently anticipating this, his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, announced that she will form a new opposition party this weekend as part of an ongoing political campaign.

Mr Anwar, Malaysia's Finance Minister and the second most powerful man in the country, was arrested last September after being abruptly sacked by the Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad. Dr Mahathir said he acted after being shown evidence that his deputy was a promiscuous homosexual.

Mr Anwar claims that he is the victim of a smear campaign and conspiracy orchestrated by Dr Mahathir, who feared his popularity and the challenge the younger man posed to the national leadership. "I'm realistic enough to accept the eventuality," Mr Anwar told reporters in the court yesterday. He could appeal if convicted.

"My concern has already been expressed in the application to disqualify the judge, which was dismissed without going into the merit of the application."

Judge Augustine last week rejected Mr Anwar's request that the judge, who joined the High Court bench last year, disqualify himself from the case on the ground that he was partial.

The judge had also earlier rebuked a defence lawyer for his combative style. "You must respect the chair even if you don't like the man sitting on the bench," he said.

In the days before his arrest, Mr Anwar addressed rallies of tens of thousands of supporters and there were violent encounters between demostrators and police in the weeks after his arrest.

Six of the original ten charges were dropped after a series of startling gaffes by prosecution witnesses, including the chief of the Malaysian CID who admitted that he would lie under oath if ordered to do so by a superior. Earlier this year, the former head of the police force admitted personally beating up the handcuffed and blindfolded Mr Anwar shortly after his arrest.

The remaining four charges relate to allegations that Mr Anwar asked police to suppress witnesses to his sexual misconduct. Each of the corruption counts carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail and a $5,000 (pounds 3,000) fine.

The judge announced yesterday that he would not be able to deliver his verdict next week, as had been expected, and the court would now reconvene to hear Mr Anwar's fate on April 14.

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