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Anwar lawyers seek dismissal of key witness

"Azizan causes stir" reads the headline  

In this report:

December 8, 1998
Web posted at: 2:34 a.m. EST (0734 GMT)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- The trial of Malaysia's sacked finance minister Anwar Ibrahim took another unexpected turn Tuesday when a defense counsel announced he would ask for the dismissal of testimony by a key prosecution witness.

The development, after contradictory testimony by Azizan Abu Bakar, Anwar's former driver, appeared to weaken the case against the popular former Cabinet minister.

On Tuesday, Azizan testified that Anwar was not involved in the death of Azizan's wife earlier this year. Azizan told the capital's High Court his pregnant wife died in a car accident in January. A controversial book had insinuated Anwar was involved in murdering the woman, as part of a wider plot.

Asked on the witness stand if he had ever suggested that Anwar had been involved in the death, Azizan said: "No, it was a road accident, an ordinary road accident."

On Monday, Azizan startled the courtroom when he appeared to deny that he was ever sodomized by the former deputy prime minister.

Anwar has pleaded not guilty to charges of corruption and sex crimes, including sodomy, which is a crime in the predominantly Muslim nation. Anwar, a former protege of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has denied any wrongdoing, calling the charges part of a high-level conspiracy to ruin his political career.

Anwar's arrest, and alleged brutality toward him while he was in custody, have contributed to civil unrest and sometimes-violent public demonstrations.
Azizan, shown leaving the courthouse Friday  

Defense aim: Throw out testimony

Azizan, who worked for Anwar's family from 1989 to 1992, alleged in August 1997 that the former Cabinet minister had repeatedly sodomized him in 1992. He made his allegations in a letter to Mahathir. The allegation became the core of corruption charges against Anwar.

But on Monday, the former driver agreed with a defense lawyer that he had not been sodomized, and even continued to visit the Anwar family socially for five years.

Defense counsel Sulaiman Abdullah told reporters outside the capital's High Court on Tuesday that Anwar's lawyers would ask Judge Augustine Paul to impeach Azizan as a witness in the corruption and sex trial

"We will try and prove that he has been making contradictory statements, that what he testified in court is different from what he has said in his sworn statement," said Sulaiman.
Anwar waves as he leaves court Nov. 27  

Defense counsel Gurbachan Singh told reporters that the defense would try to persuade the judge to impeach Azizan as a witness. "Impeachment is to discredit the witness, that he's lying. And if he's impeached, then the whole of his evidence goes," Gurbachan said.

Anwar's defense lawyers said Tuesday's questioning was targeted to support Anwar's argument that he was the victim of a high-level conspiracy to end his career.

Mahathir, who sacked Anwar two months after the annual meeting of his United Malays National Organization (UMNO) meeting in June, has said Anwar was morally unfit to succeed him in power.

Did the witness change his story?

The defense did not cross-examine Azizan on Tuesday to clear up confusion that emerged on Monday when Azizan appeared to contradict his 1997 allegation that Anwar had repeatedly sodomized him.

Anwar's lawyers said Azizan had retracted his allegation of sodomy on Monday when he agreed with a defense lawyer that he had visited Anwar's house for five years until 1997 "because he did not sodomize you."

Anwar's supporters were jubilant after Azizan's testimony on Monday afternoon. Several dozen people gathered outside the High Court, cheering "Long Live Anwar."

But a prosecution lawyer said Azizan was confused by the questioning by the defense.

A senior lawyer with no ties to the trial said mere confusion over Azizan's stance could end up helping Anwar.

"At the end of the day, the court has to give the benefit of doubt to the accused," said R.R. Chelvarajah, an attorney in the western city of Malacca and vice president of the Malaysian Bar Council.

Listening in

In another development, Mahathir's governing party said it will distribute audio tapes of the meeting at which leaders expelled Anwar from the party, news reports said Tuesday.

UMNO decided to make the proceedings public because tapes of excerpts from the meetings were already being widely sold in the country.

In unauthorized cassettes now available, parts of Anwar's speech had been erased to project a better image of the jailed politician, the official news agency, Bernama, said.

Several versions of what happened at the September 3 meeting, held one day after Anwar was fired by Mahathir, have been circulating.

But anyone who wants to hear the latest version of the expulsion will have to pay for the privilege. Mahathir said the cassettes will not be given away.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.