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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

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MARCH 3, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 8

Hullabaloo Over Testimony
Anwar wants Dr. M to appear as witness
By AJAY SINGH and SANTHA OORJITHAM Kuala Lumpur

Will Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad testify in the sodomy trial of his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim? Four months after the PM was subpoenaed in connection with the case, Malaysians have yet to receive a clear answer to the question. Suspense surrounding the issue heightened on Feb. 18, when a Kuala Lumpur court ruled on a prosecution suggestion that the defense should show why the PM's evidence was relevant to the trial before summoning him.

Anwar's lawyer, opposition politician Karpal Singh, argued in court that the relevance of Mahathir's deposition could only be raised if the PM had made an application to set aside his subpoena. Though Mahathir has not approached the court, Judge Arifin Jaka agreed with the prosecution's position. The PM himself sounds willing, if reluctant. "I don't know much about the case," he told reporters. But he said, "if I am required at the court and it is relevant, Isuppose I will have to go - that is the law." Mahathir then added: "If they [the defense] just want to make a political show of it, I don't think it is very fair."

For all his protestations, Mahathir may in fact relish being put on the stand. Given that public comments about the case are restricted by law, he will get an opportunity to speak about the allegations against his political rival Anwar and the latter's adopted brother Sukma Darmawan. (Both are jointly charged with sodomizing Azizan Abu Bakar, who was once a driver for Anwar's family.) The only problem for Mahathir is that the timing is tricky. His United Malays National Organization (UMNO) is scheduled to elect party leaders in May and the PM may be facing a challenge of sorts for the top post (see accompanying story). Clearly, a court appearance in the run-up to the high-stakes elections is not without risk for Dr. M.

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But nothing will be known until March 6, when lawyers for Anwar and Sukma are scheduled to tell the court why Mahathir should be a witness. Initially, the court's deadline for this was Feb. 22. But the defense requested more time to prepare its arguments, especially since Anwar's lawyers have been busy with another important matter: On Feb. 28, they are to appeal against the former deputy PM's sentencing to six years in prison last April for abuse of power. He was ruled to have used police to obtain retractions of the sexual allegations against him.

Anwar, 52, has maintained all along that the charges against him are politically motivated. On Feb. 14, for the first time, a witness backed his claim of a conspiracy. Raja Kamaruddin Raja Abdul Wahid, 50, former head of an UMNO party branch, told the court that in June 1998, he met Mahathir's then-political secretary Abdul Aziz Samsuddin. "Aziz directed me to come up with a plan to prevent Anwar from becoming prime minister and to ensure his supporters were toppled," he said. Raja Kamaruddin further testified: "Aziz said there would be no problems from Azizan and Ummi Hafilda because they were short of money and when I [Aziz] give them money and ask them to make up stories and make whatever changes to statements they have made related to sodomy charges against Anwar, they did that." (Ummi, a key prosecution witness, got the scandal ball rolling by accusing Anwar of sodomy and adultery in a letter to Mahathir.) "Aziz told me sodomy and adultery are the best ways [to attack Anwar] as creating other stories have no impact and thrill," Raja Kamaruddin told the court.

It is unclear so far how Raja Kamaruddin's second-hand descriptions of conversations with Aziz will affect the trial. For now, the issue most Malaysians are interested in is the prospect of Mahathir appearing in court. Expect some attention-grabbing headlines after the hearing resumes.


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