Malaysia awaits Anwar verdict this week
Outcome will help shape nation's political future
April 12, 1999
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- In the country's most closely-watched case, High Court Judge Augustine Paul will decide on Wednesday whether former finance minister Anwar Ibrahim is guilty or innocent of four corruption charges.
Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail and a 20,000 ringgit ($5,000) fine.
No matter which direction the verdict takes, it is certain to make a major impact on the nation's political future.
It will also end Malaysia's longest trial, which has split the nation ahead of general elections to be held by June 2000.
Guilty or innocent, Anwar, once the second most powerful man in Malaysia, will face other legal hurdles before he could ever rejoin the political mainstream and challenge Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Anwar says he is conspiracy target
Anwar says he was framed by enemies led by Mahathir, who dismissed his former deputy last September after differences over economic policy and politics reached breaking point.
But the 51-year-old accused, who was barred from trying to prove a political conspiracy during his trial, expects to be sentenced to at least two years in prison.
"Two years, four years, it makes no difference," Anwar said last month.
A sentence of at least one year or a fine of 2,000 ringgit ($500) would be enough to disqualify the former prime-minister-in-waiting from serving in parliament for five years from the date of his release from jail.
Barred from parliament, Anwar, the only politician besides Mahathir with nationwide appeal, would be sidelined.
Mahathir says his former protege turned dissident was morally unfit and planned to topple his 18-year-old rule with Indonesia-style riots.
Case seen as test of legal system
But Anwar says Mahathir, who plucked his former deputy from the Islamic youth movement in 1982, and former cabinet colleagues plotted against him so he could never reach the pinnacle of power and expose favouritism and corruption.
Anwar's troubles have stirred considerable sympathy among Malaysians and many foreign leaders who see his case as a test of the Southeast Asian nation's legal and political systems.
Anwar's arrest in September set off unprecedented anti-government street demonstrations which police eventually put down with an iron fist.
Authorities were expected to cordon off the courthouse where the verdict will be delivered to head off protests on the day Anwar's fate is decided.
Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, formed a new political party this month, giving the spontaneous movement that sprang up around Anwar after his sacking a potential safety valve for its frustrations.
But authorities were concerned there could be efforts to mount large-scale protests if Anwar received a long prison term.
Foreign governments including the United States and the European Union as well as rights groups were preparing statements to be issued after the verdict, diplomats said.
U.S. Vice President Gore embraced reform effort
Anwar's arrest has strained Malaysia's ties with several of its neighbours including Indonesia and the Philippines.
Kuala Lumpur denounced the United States after Vice President Al Gore openly embraced Anwar's "reformasi" (reform) movement during an Asia-Pacific summit in the Malaysian capital last November.
Anwar's case has emboldened Malaysia's small opposition, dwarfed by Mahathir's ruling coalition and divided along ethnic lines. But even the opposition leader discounts its chances of depriving Mahathir of victory in coming general elections.
Anwar also faces a fifth corruption charge and five sodomy counts, and authorities have said they could bring more charges.
But it was not clear if the government would press other charges once the verdict on the corruption charges is announced.
If convicted, Anwar can turn to the Court of Appeal. If he failed there, his last legal option would be the Federal Court.
As a last resort, he could ask the king for a pardon.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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