KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s deputy prime minister said on Thursday the man who has accused opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy had turned to him for help because he was in a trauma.
Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak’s surprise remarks came days after Anwar rejected the allegation as a top-level conspiracy to prevent him from standing for parliament and stymie his drive to woo defectors from the ruling coalition.
Police are investigating Anwar, 60, for allegedly sodomising his 23-year-old aide. A similar charge a decade ago landed the former finance minister in jail for six years before the nation’s highest court overturned that conviction in 2004.
Najib said Anwar’s accuser, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, went to his house a few days before lodging the police report on Saturday.
“There is no conspiracy. The boy came to my house to complain to me that he was sodomised by Anwar. Initially I was skeptical. He needed help because he was so traumatized,” Najib told reporters.
“It was up to him and the police to decide on the next course of action.”
Anwar has said he planned to file a legal deposition soon demonstrating that Saiful had close ties with Najib and his staff.
Police have classified the sexual assault report against Anwar as sodomy, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. So far, the police have not questioned Anwar.
Winning a seat in parliament would be the first step on the road to Anwar’s wider ambition of leading the opposition to power for the first time in Malaysian history.
The three-party 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.
Analysts said the allegation could end up helping Anwar more than hurting him in his drive to lead the opposition to power.
“My take is that the likely outcome will be no prosecution, because this sort of thing will be incredibly difficult to prove, unless they have a video recording or a picture,” said James Chin, political science lecturer at Monash University, Malaysia. “It’s one man’s word against the other.”
Anwar says he has a solid alibi backed by witnesses that proves he wasn’t at a luxury Kuala Lumpur apartment at the time his accuser said they had sex there.
“Anwar has no choice but to fight back hard,” said Yang Razali Kasssim, Senior Fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s School of International Studies in Singapore.
The sodomy allegation could further embolden the opposition, which plans to stage a big weekend rally against a sharp fuel price rise that has stoked anger against the government.
Organizers plan to gather tens of thousands of people in the biggest protest since the government substantially raised petrol and diesel prices in early June.
Police on Thursday asked the organizers to scrap the rally, which they deemed as an illegal assembly, or face arrests.
“Action can be taken on those taking part,” the police chief for Selangor state, adjacent to Kuala Lumpur, was quoted as saying by the national Bernama news agency. In Malaysia, a gathering of five or more people requires a police permit.
Additional reporting by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Alex Richardson