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Paris, Wednesday, November 4, 1998

Police Witness Says Sex Investigation of Anwar Started in '92

By Keith Richburg Washington Post Service
KUALA LUMPUR - The politically explosive sex-and-corruption trial of Malaysia's former deputy prime minister moved Tuesday from legal wrangling to the substance of the charges against him, with a senior intelligence officer testifying that police had opened an investigation into Anwar Ibrahim's sexual practices as early as 1992.

 Mohammed Said Awang, the director of the police's special branch, appearing as the government's first witness against the popular Mr. Anwar, said allegations of sexual misconduct first surfaced six years ago when Mr. Anwar was finance minister, and he said the police then opened an investigation code-named Solid Grip.

 Mr. Anwar, who was appointed deputy prime minister in 1995 and until September was Malaysia's second most powerful politician and the designated heir to Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, has been charged with five counts of sodomy and five counts of corruption. The trial on four of those charges opened Monday.

 The corruption counts center on government accusations that Mr. Anwar used his powerful position to get police to quash the investigations into his alleged sexual misdeeds.

 The special-branch director testified Tuesday that in August 1997, Mr. Anwar called for a meeting to discuss what he called wild allegations circulating about him. Government prosecutors contend that Mr. Anwar tried to tamper with the police inquiry. But Mr. Mohammed Said said only that ''Anwar asked me to look into the matter.''

 Mr. Anwar has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him and has accused Mr. Mahathir, his onetime mentor, of using trumped-up allegations to discredit his name and remove a popular political rival.

Mr. Anwar's arrest Sept. 20 ignited an outpouring of public protest in Malaysia against Mr. Mahathir and has brought to the surface pent-up frustrations with the country's political system, restrictions on its press, a police force seen by many as out of control and a judicial system that some fear has become a tool of the ruling elite.

 The credibility problems for the government and the police worsened in September when Mr. Anwar emerged from a week in police detention with a black eye and other signs of what he said was a severe beating that left him unconscious. Mr. Mahathir, who is also the minister for home affairs, promised on Sept. 30 to fully investigate Mr. Anwar's claim that he was beaten in custody, but more than a month later, no result of any inquiry has been announced.

 Since his arrest, Mr. Anwar's supporters and others fed up with the country's closed political system have been staging weekly demonstrations calling for Mr. Mahathir to resign. One of those protests turned violent after police used water cannons to disperse a crowd emerging from the city's main mosque.

Tuesday, troops armed with automatic rifles and wearing red helmets and shields put a heavy cordon around the courthouse where the trial was being held. Only a few hundred people gathered on the periphery of the police lines.

 The sensational case has also attracted intense international interest, particularly because Mr. Anwar, before his dismissal and arrest, had been widely touted as a kind of new breed Asian leader who was more democratic, and more sophisticated in economic management, than the 72-year-old Mr. Mahathir, who rose to power through the past struggles against European colonialism. Mr. Anwar, who is 51, counts among his personal friends President B.J. Habibie of Indonesia, and President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines, both of whom have publicly come to his defense.

 Many Malaysians were shocked and skeptical when Mr. Mahathir first raised the accusation that his heir apparent was a serial sodomist who had abused his power by instructing the police to cover-up his sexual dalliances with men.

Mr. Anwar has long cultivated an image here as a devout Muslim, and he is married and a father of six. Not until he began falling out from Mr. Mahathir over economic policy, with the two men clashing sharply over how to respond to the Asian financial crisis that broke out last year, did any allegations of sexual impropriety surface publicly.

 In presenting Mr. Mohammed Said as their first witness, government prosecutors appeared to want to show that the accusations of sexual misconduct were not new.

 Mr. Mohammed Said said he first learned of the Solid Grip investigation from two colleagues who briefed him in 1997 after more allegations surfaced, attributed to Mr. Anwar's driver, Azizan Abu Bakar, and a female acquaintance, Ummi Hafilda Ali, who was the sister of Mr. Anwar's private secretary.

 Mr. Anwar, according to prosecutors, met with Mr. Mohammed Said and his special-branch deputy, Amir Junus, at his official residence in August 1997 and instructed them to obtain written statements from the driver and the woman denying any sexual misconduct on Mr. Anwar's part.

The two did submit written statements denying Mr. Anwar had done anything wrong, and the crux of the government charges is that Mr. Anwar had tampered with the investigation by instructing the police officials to obtain those statements.