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World - Asia/Pacific

Independent inquiry ordered into beating of Malaysia's Anwar

Anwar Trial January 27, 1999
Web posted at: 5:33 a.m. EST (1033 GMT)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- Three weeks after promising action, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday bowed to public pressure and set up a panel to investigate injuries his sacked former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, suffered in police custody.

Images of Malaysia's former prime minister-in-waiting with a blackened eye and a neck brace, and Mahathir's apparent indifference sparked international indignation, and the prime minister ordered police to investigate.

But after interviewing 67 people, including Anwar, three doctors and 63 police personnel over four months, the police team was still unable to complete its investigation.

On Wednesday, Mahathir suspended the police investigation.

Anwar, who was sacked and arrested in September, appeared later that month in court with a black eye and bruises on his neck and hands, prompting international outrage.

Anwar said he was blindfolded on the night of his arrest and beaten until unconscious and bleeding. An eye doctor hired by the family later backed Anwar's claim that he had been assaulted.

Mahathir said at that time that Anwar might have inflicted the injuries on himself.

Earlier this month, the attorney general laid the blame for Anwar's injuries on the police, prompting the federal police chief to resign and triggering calls from the opposition and one party in Mahathir's governing coalition for an independent panel to investigate.

Mahathir said he would consider the calls but waited until Wednesday, more than three weeks after the attorney-general had triggered the furor, to announce an independent panel.

The three-member commission will comprise two former judges, one of whom is a former attorney general, and a medical doctor, a government official said.

After he was arrested in September, Anwar was charged with five counts each of corruption and sodomy. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Defense makes last pitch to the court

At his High Court trial on Wednesday, the defense said Anwar deserved to be acquitted of corruption charges and two senior police officers should be indicted instead.

"Based on the evidence before the court, there is no other option than to acquit him. He deserves an acquittal," lawyer Christopher Fernando told the court.

Fernando spoke on the second day of defense summation in the trial which began in November and has exposed deep political divisions in Malaysia.

When the defense completes its summation the prosecution would then make its submission before Judge Augustine Paul decides whether to dismiss the four corruption charges under consideration or extend the trial by ordering Anwar to mount a defense.

The four corruption charges now under examination allege that Anwar abused his power in August 1997 as then deputy prime minister and finance minister to direct two police officers to obtain retractions from two people who had accused him of sexual misconduct and sodomy.

Anwar says the accusations were false and he approached the police so they could help clear his name. He has said the two accusers -- a former driver and the sister of his former private secretary -- were part of a political plot to ruin his career.

"The political conspiracy would provide the motives for all the prosecution's witnesses to come and lie in this court," defense counsel Fernando told the court, saying the corruption charges had been fabricated.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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