Anwar Arrest Looms in Malaysia: Report

Barely two days after a medical report surfaced that appeared to clear opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy allegations made by a former aide, a news Web site aligned with Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi declared that “police have completed their investigations” and will soon charge Anwar over the allegations.

The Malaysian Insider quotes an unnamed source “who is familiar with the investigations” of Anwar saying, “This case is built on strong scientific evidence.” The site also quotes sources saying that “investigators… will be relying on Anwar's DNA samples from 1998” to make their case.

There is no independent confirmation of the report on Malaysian Insider, which was started recently by journalists that analysts say are identified with Badawi. Political observers say establishment of the publication, which appeared to be an attempt to counter pro-opposition blog sites, came after the March 8 election in which the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition lost its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time since independence.

The drama over the medical report and what may be Anwar’s imminent arrest is fueling uncertainty in Malaysia as a combination of political crisis and economic frustration fuel pro-opposition sentiment. With Anwar in the midst of a political comeback, many see the sodomy charges as a desperate attempt by the government to cling to power.

“The whole sodomy episode reeks with injustice and stinks to high heaven,” said P Ramakrishnan, the president of the reform organization Aliran, who questioned whether police “were taking instructions from politicians who felt threatened and therefore were bent on destroying Anwar to preserve their power base.”

Anwar was arrested on July 15 and kept overnight but no charges were filed over the accusations of sodomy made by former aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan two weeks earlier. At the time, Anwar refused to provide a DNA sample, claiming that it could be misused to fake evidence against him. Police told Anwar to report back to them within 30 days.

In 1998, a charge of sodomy was also filed against Anwar after he broke with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who sacked the then-deputy prime minister and finance minister and expelled him from UMNO. Anwar’s subsequent sodomy conviction was later overturned after Badawi succeeded Mahathir. Anwar was also jailed on corruption charges brought by Mahathir.

The medical report leaked to journalists this week said that there was no tearing or bleeding in Saiful’s rectum. Made by Dr Mohamed Osman Abdul Hamid of Hospital Pusrawi (Islamic Treatment Centre), the medical report has triggered charges that government leaders faked the entire episode to keep Anwar from an expected attempt to take power after an almost-certain win in an upcoming by-election. The hospital said it did not officially issue the report, a spokesman saying thatit looked similar to the original. "The report looks genuine but the original is with me," the general manager said.

With so many charges and counter charges flying back and forth, the crisis for Malaysia seems set to deepen as UMNO and it allies face the strongest challenge yet to their supremacy.

Looking at a mess involving the most respected professions in the country, Ambiga Sreenavasan, president of the Malaysian Bar Council, said, “The credibility of the Malaysian justice system as a whole is at stake. The integrity of professionals, be they doctors or lawyers, must never be interfered with. The public must be left in no doubt that the criminal justice system in this country will not be misused or abused.”

If Anwar wins a seat in the parliament, the opposition alliance would need just 30 seats to gain a simple majority and overturn the Barisan’s 50-year reign. Putting Anwar back behind bars may be what the leadership considers its most viable option to remain in power. It is a move that could backfire.

“There will definitely be protests [if Anwar is arrested],” said a seasoned observer of Malaysian politics. “Before the leaked medical report, I would have said it would be peaceful, but after the report was leaked, I would not be surprised if the protesters turn violent.”

There have also been widespread reports that Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, the fundamentalist Islamic party, has been in talks with UMNO to leave the opposition coalition to join the Barisan. Both parties are made up of ethnic Malays who some political observers regard as threatened by the mix of Indian, Chinese and urban Malays in the opposition alliance. Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the PAS spiritual advisor, is said to be strongly opposed to such an alliance, regarding UMNO as irretrievably corrupt and remembering an UMNO betrayal of PAS in the early 1970s. PAS leaders have so far reassured the opposition coalition that it will stay put.

The implications of an Anwar takeover of the government would be alarming for UMNO and other components of the Barisan, the Malaysian Chinese Association and the Malaysian Indian Congress. The opposition leader has filed a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Agency charging police chief Musa Hassan, who was the lead investigating officer, and Abdul Ghani Patail, who was the lead prosecutor, of fabricating evidence against him in 1998. A Royal Commission in March also exposed corrupt judiciary practices, alleging that the system is has been manipulated by politicians, including Mahathir Mohamad.

Other corruption charges also have dogged UMNO politicians and could provide fodder for investigations by a new government. Favorable government contracts are said to have gone to cronies closely aligned with the leadership. Following opposition state victories in Penang, Selangor and other territories, newly installed governments have taken steps to investigate some of the contracts in question.

Then there is the widely publicized deal over three French submarines, in which Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and his close friend Abdul Razak Baginda engineered a contract that netted Baginda’s company US$111 million in fees. Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been pursued by allegations that they may be linked to the gruesome murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a 28-year-old Mongolian woman who was the translator on the deal and allegedly the lover of both men. She was demanding US$500,000 from Baginda when she was killed. Baginda and two of Najib’s bodyguards are on trial for her murder.

Influential blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin of Malaysia Today says Badawi is in possession of a military intelligence report that indicate Najib and Rosmah were involved in the murder. Badawi has denied the allegations in local media and said he has full confidence in Najib.