KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said on Tuesday he is shelving plans to contest a parliamentary by-election due to a “political conspiracy” behind a young aide’s accusation of homosexual assault.
“The plan was for the announcement to be made today,” Anwar told a news conference at his People’s Justice party headquarters. “It has been derailed for some days, naturally.”
The sodomy accusation was part of a high-level political conspiracy to keep him from entering parliament and to halt his campaign to woo defectors from the ruling National Front coalition, he said.
Anwar had earlier led scores of supporters shouting “reformasi” and “long live Anwar” to a police station to complain that evidence was cooked up against him on similar charges a decade ago.
Police are investigating the former deputy premier for sodomising a 23-year-old aide, the same charge that landed him in jail for six years before the Federal Court overturned that conviction in 2004. Sodomy is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison in Malaysia.
Anwar said he planned to file a legal deposition soon demonstrating that his accuser, Saiful Bukhari, had close ties with Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and his staff.
“This claim is frivolous and nonsensical,” he said. “I would advise them to drop this case because it did not happen.”
Najib, widely viewed as the heir apparent to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and Anwar’s chief rival for power, has repeatedly denied having anything to do with the case.
Anwar vowed at the news conference “to fight every inch of the way” against the sodomy allegation, which surfaced as the revitalised opposition under Anwar was trying to engineer parliamentary defections aimed at bringing down Abdullah’s government.
The loose opposition alliance made historic gains in a March 8 general election, winning five of 13 state governments and coming within 30 seats of taking control of the 222-member parliament.
Winning a seat in parliament would be the first step on the road to Anwar’s larger ambition of leading the opposition to power for the first time in Malaysian history.
Launching a counter-attack against the “political conspiracy”, Anwar filed a report at a suburban police station saying the current police chief and attorney general fabricated evidence against him in the 1998 sodomy case when they were part of a team that investigated and prosecuted him.
Neither the national police chief nor the attorney general have commented on the case.
The events in the political arena weighed on Malaysia’s financial markets, with foreign exchange dealers saying they suspected the central bank had stepped in to support the ringgit currency against the dollar.
“Seems foreigners are not willing to touch this currency in the short term until political news is gone,” one Kuala Lumpur dealer said. Malaysian shares also weakened, with the benchmark index closing down 1 percent.
The allegations have overshadowed other political tempests in Malaysia, including challenges to Abdullah’s leadership, public anger over price rises, Najib’s denials of a link to a Mongolian model’s murder case, and former premier Mahathir Mohamad being investigated for fixing judicial appointments.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abdullah was meeting Anwar’s wife, Wan Aziz Wan Ismail. “Just say to him enough is enough,” Anwar said he told his wife.
The United States cautioned against any politically motivated investigation into Anwar. State Department spokesman Tom Casey noted that Anwar had been convicted previously on similar sodomy charges that were overturned in court. “So we would hope that there’s not a pattern here.”
Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Alex Richardson
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