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World - Asia/Pacific

Malaysia's Anwar found guilty on corruption charges

April 14, 1999
Web posted at: 1:36 a.m. EDT (0536 GMT)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) - Malaysia's sacked deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was found guilty of four corruption charges and sentenced to six years in jail Wednesday -- a decision which could prompt mass street demonstrations.

Anwar was charged last September and went to trial in November in a controversial legal battle that divided the nation.

"I have been dealt a judgment that stinks to high heaven," Anwar said in a statement which he read in the capital's High Court after he was convicted.

Anwar was sentenced to six years on each of the four charges. The sentences were to run concurrently, according to one of Anwar's defense attorneys, Pawancheek Merican.

"It's not over yet," the attorney said.

Each of the charges carried a maximum of 14 years in jail and a 20,000 ringgit ($5,000) fine. The conviction bars Anwar from returning to politics for at least five years upon his release.

"This is an absolute disgrace. An interpretation of corruption which is ridiculous, nauseating in fact when one considers how in Malaysia billions of ringgit of the people's money are being squandered by its leaders to save their children and cronies," Anwar said.

"The charges are part of a political conspiracy to destroy me and ensure (Prime Minister) Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad's continued hold on power at whatever cost, even if it means sacrificing whatever little is left of the judiciary's integrity," he said.

During the five-and-a-half month trial, the judge barred Anwar from arguing that he was the victim of a conspiracy led by Mahathir and political associates.

"They have made greed and unethical behavior their private domain, rendering themselves above the law," Anwar said.

"Right from the beginning, I had no hope whatsoever that I would be tried fairly. I have no hope of justice."

Anwar was convicted of ordering police in 1997 to obtain retractions from two people who had accused him of sex crimes.

After he sacked his former deputy in September, Mahathir called Anwar morally unfit.

The convicted former minister said Mahathir gave him an ultimatum in September to resign from the Cabinet or be charged with crimes.

"That was the ultimatum the prime minister gave on the morning of the second of September 1998. Isn't this corruption? The prime minister uses the judiciary as a tool to exert political pressure," Anwar said.

"All the instruments of government including the attorney- general's office, the police and indeed the judiciary are under the prime minister's thumb."

Mahathir has denied that there was a political conspiracy against Anwar and accused his former deputy of trying to spark riots to topple his government.

Philippine President Joseph Estrada said he was saddened by the conviction. "It's very unfortunate and what happened is saddening," Estrada said in a radio interview, adding: "If he really is innocent, then the day will come that his name will be cleared."

The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, in a statement from New York, said the conviction "is the result of two decades of attacks on the once-independent judiciary by the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad."

Anwar's wife, Azizah Ismail, came out of the courtroom briefly after the verdict, but declined to comment. Looking calm, she held her finger to her lips and walked back to the courtroom.

CNN Correspondent Lisa Barron reported from outside the court that an audible gasp went up among protesters when the sentence was announced.

She said it was now expected that many of the demonstrators would look to Anwar's wife for guidance on how to react. Azizah has become the de facto leader of the opposition movement in Malaysia since her husband's jailing.

Anwar, finance minister since 1991 and deputy prime minister since 1993, still faces another corruption charge and five counts of sodomy. His lawyers said they intend to immediately appeal.

During the bizarre trial, which ran for 78 days, the judge listened to 23 prosecution witnesses and 22 from the defense. The state argued that Anwar was a corrupt adulterer. A mattress said to contain Anwar's seminal fluids was dragged into the courtroom and key witnesses testified he had sex with women and men; his former driver said he was Anwar's "sex slave."

The defense argued that Anwar was a devout Muslim, innocent of all charges and the victim of a political conspiracy to eliminate his challenge to Mahathir's 18-year leadership.

Ahead of the decision, 500 supporters of Anwar defied a police order to disperse and shouted anti-government slogans.

Two police water cannon trucks and about 50 riot police with helmets, shields and batons faced the crowd which shouted "Reformasi" (reform) and called for Mahathir to step down after 18 years in power

Under lock and key

Anwar, who has been in detention since his arrest in September, arrived at the High Court at 8:30 a.m. (0030 GMT) in a police jeep.

Authorities fear the conviction could trigger fresh protests by Anwar's supporters, who took to the streets after his arrest in September in an unprecedented challenge to Mahathir's rule.

Days after he was fired. Anwar launched a nationwide tour calling for Mahathir's resignation. From initial crowds of several hundred people in the backyard of his residence, Anwar mobilized tens of thousands of activists within two weeks.

Dozens of paramilitary troopers and riot police encircled the Moorish style court building in the heart of the capital.

About a dozen patrolled a mosque across the river from the courthouse where protesters gathered on Tuesday night, defying a police warning.

Police pushed news photographers and cameramen, some stationed for hours in hopes of getting a shot of Anwar, away from one entrance to the court before the former minister arrived.

A photographer for an international news agency was detained by police when he refused to move.

On Tuesday evening, about 300 Anwar supporters shouting "Reformasi" (reform) and anti-government slogans defied a police warning and gathered outside the mosque near the courthouse.

Paramilitary troopers wielding batons broke up the demonstration after protesters, mainly students, refused to disperse. At least two people were detained. There were no reports of injuries.

It was the first anti-government street demonstration in several months in the capital.

The prosecution in Anwar's trial alleged he abused his power in 1997 as then-deputy prime minister and finance minister by directing police to obtain retractions from two people who accused him of sex crimes.

Anwar says the charges, as well as a fifth corruption count and five sodomy counts on which he has not yet been tried, are part of political plot against him.

Anwar is credited as being an economic wizard and was widely respected by regional governments.

Reporter Kasra Naji and Reuters contributed to this report.

Malaysia awaits Anwar verdict this week
April 12, 1999
Report reveals brutal extent of Malaysian official's beating
April 5, 1999
Wife of jailed Malaysian official forms opposition party
April 4, 1999
Defense in Malaysian Anwar trial rests its case
March 15, 1999
Litmus test at Sabah polls for Malaysia's Mahathir
March 13, 1999
Explosion reported after Anwar courthouse evacuated in bomb scare
February 22, 1999
Public hearings to probe alleged beatings of Malaysia's Anwar
February 21, 1999

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