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Testimony throws Anwar trial into turmoil

Anwar
Anwar waves to reporters as he leaves court Nov. 23  
December 7, 1998
Web posted at: 1:43 a.m. EST (0643 GMT)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- A key witness whose allegations form the bulk of sex charges against jailed politician Anwar Ibrahim, denied Monday that he was ever sodomized by the former deputy prime minister.

The development could mean a crushing blow for prosecutors.

Azizan Abu Bakar, who had previously testified that Anwar forced him into sodomy, a crime in this predominantly Muslim nation, drew courtroom gasps when he agreed with a defense lawyer who said Anwar "did not sodomise you."

Anwar is currently on trial on four counts of abuse of power. He will be tried later on another charge of corruption and five charges of committing illegal sex acts.

Azizan had accused Anwar of sodomy in a letter to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in August 1997. The allegation is at the heart of four counts of corruption that the High Court is initially examining in Anwar's trial.

Anwar has denied any wrongdoing, calling the charges part of a high-level conspiracy to ruin his political career.
Azizan
Azizan, shown leaving the courthouse Friday  

Taken aback at Azizan's retraction, defense attorney Christopher Fernando repeated his question as a hushed silence fell on the courtroom and everyone strained to hear the answer.

Fernando told Azizan: "I put it to you that it was because Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim did not do anything to you that you continued to visit him between 1992 and 1997, otherwise you would have stayed far, far away."

"Yes," said Azizan, who worked for Anwar's family as a driver from 1989 to 1992.

The interpreter then translated Fernando's statement into Malay for a second time.

"I do not understand what 'did not do anything' means," the witness said.

Fernando said to Judge Augustine Paul: "My Lord, he answered the question, he said yes. Would you please record it?"

The defense counsel then said to Azizan: "I put it to you that he did not sodomise you, that's why you continued to visit him between '92 and '97."

After the statement was translated into Malay, Azizan said in Malay: "I agree."

The court interpreter without prompting provided a longer version of Azizan's reply, saying in Malay: "I agree that Datuk Seri Anwar did not sodomise me and that was why I continued to visit him between '92 and '97."

The answer remained the same.

Anwar turned to his family seated behind him in the courtroom and smiled broadly.

The former cabinet minister alleges that Azizan was part of a plot to smear him and destroy his political career. Mahathir, who sacked Anwar on September 2, has called his former protege morally unfit.

It was Azizan's fourth day on the witness stand as the trial at the heart of Malaysia's civil unrest entered its 21st day. The trial over five counts each of corruption and sodomy is expected to last at least until mid-1999.

Last week, Azizan stood by his 1997 letter which said Anwar was an animal who had turned him into a "homosexual slave" in 1992 before he left the job.

Azizan repeated on Monday that he had visited the family between 1992 and 1997 and had cordial relations with them over that period.

Asked by Fernando if he had been angry with Anwar during the five years before he levelled the allegations, Azizan said: "I was only angry with his rotten behaviour."

Fernando asked him why he had visited Anwar.

"I just wanted to see his children because his children were that close to me while I was working as a driver," he

During cross-examination last week, Azizan wavered on his testimony, prompting the defense lawyer's accusations that his story was inconsistent and contradictory.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad fired Anwar on Sept. 2, saying he had determined Anwar was morally unfit for office. The sacking led to demands for political reforms and massive anti-government protests in the normally placid Southeast Asian capital.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.