Malaysia’s High Court yesterday ruled that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s defense team had a case to answer in his sodomy trial, after finding the prosecution’s main witness “credible.”
Anwar is on trial over allegations that the 63-year-old father-of-six sodomized a 25-year-old former aide at an upmarket apartment in June 2008.
“I find a prima facie case ... has been made out against the accused,” High Court Judge Zabidin Mohamed Diah told a packed courtroom.
“Therefore the accused is called to enter his defense,” Diah said.
Under Malaysian law, a judge decides after the prosecution has presented its case whether to dismiss the charges or to ask the defense to enter its response.
“I found [prosecution witness Mohamad Saiful Bukhari] to be a credible witness. There is nothing improbable about his evidence. His evidence is reliable,” he said.
The judge also found there was evidence that Anwar and Saiful were at the scene of the alleged crime at the time in question and that there was “opportunity for the offense to have taken place.”
Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia, whether or not between consenting adults.
Anwar says the accusations are part of a long-running government plot to derail his political career, but authorities deny any conspiracy.
“Of course, it does not come as a surprise the fact that the judge gave this ruling,” he told reporters outside the court room. “But what is clearly shocking is that he has actually prejudged the case ... taking all the ingredients of the charge as something factual, acceptable beyond reasonable doubt, which means it is already a conviction.”
“It makes the position of the defense very precarious,” he said. “We have decided to go all out to defend ... We know this is a case that involves a major conspiracy.”
Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted. The marathon trial began in January last year but has been punctuated by delays.
Police are separately investigating allegations that Anwar is the man in a video purportedly showing an assignation with a female prostitute in a hotel room in February. Anwar has denied the allegations.
Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister under then--Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998 and found guilty of corruption and sodomy, but was released from jail in 2004 after the sodomy conviction was overturned.
He has since become an -electoral threat to the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has been in power for half a century.
The trial is to resume on June 6, court officials said.
Anwar’s lawyer, Sankara Nair, said the defense would interview about 30 witnesses, including Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife, who met Saiful after the alleged crime, before deciding who to call to take the stand. Anwar will be the first to testify.
As Anwar left the courthouse, hundreds of supporters shouted “reformasi,” the 1998 protest cry, and some held up posters that read “We want justice for Anwar Ibrahim.”