The admission by the witness, Mohamed Said Awang, who is head of the police intelligence unit known as the Special Branch, caused gasps in the chambers and prompted the surprised judge to interrupt with the question: ''So you may lie?''
''I may, or I may not,'' Mr. Mohamed Said replied. At that admission, a lawyer for Mr. Anwar, Christopher Fernando, replied, ''From your answer, you are a most unscrupulous person.''
In what may be a further blow to the prosecution's case, Mr. Mohamed Said also told the court that it was possible that Mr. Anwar might have directed him to get two people to retract their allegations of Mr. Anwar's sexual misconduct not as part of a cover-up of any wrongdoing, but because the allegations were baseless.
As the prosecution's lead witness, Mr. Mohamed Said, who will retire this month, was supposed to lend credibility to the charge that Mr. Anwar improperly interfered with a police investigation into whether he engaged in homosexual sex, which is illegal in Malaysia. But after three days of testimony and cross-examination, Mr. Mohamed Said may have done more to bolster Mr. Anwar's claim that the charges against him were trumped up by his political enemies, and that he is the victim of a conspiracy by those who wanted to remove him from his powerful post.
''If someone higher than the deputy prime minister were to instruct you to come and lie to the court here, would
you do it?'' Mr. Fernando asked at one point Thursday.
''It depends on the situation,'' Mr. Mohamed Said replied. The only person higher than the deputy prime minister is the prime minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad.
At another point, Mr. Fernando asked Mr. Mohamed Said: ''I put it to you that since the allegations against him were false and baseless, it was perfectly legitimate for him to get retractions of those false and baseless allegations?''
Mr. Mohamed Said replied, ''Yes.''
The prosecution is expected to call more than 50 witnesses in this first phase of the trial, including Mr. Mahathir.
Many Malaysians are convinced that no matter how weak the government's case, Mr. Anwar is still likely to be found guilty because Mr. Mahathir has publicly called for a conviction. Courts in Malaysia rarely rule against the government in politically sensitive cases.
Since his dismissal Sept. 2 and his arrest 18 days later on charges of sodomy and tampering with the police investigation, Mr. Anwar's case has emerged as a rallying point for thousands of Malaysians who have grown frustrated with the 17-year rule of Mr. Mahathir. Before his arrest, Mr. Anwar led tens of thousands of people into the streets, demanding political reform and the resignation of Mr. Mahathir.
When Mr. Mahathir dismissed Mr. Anwar - his erstwhile deputy and designated heir - the prime minister said it would be for the courts to determine his guilt or innocence, although he also said he was convinced that Mr. Anwar was a sodomite unfit to lead the country.
On Wednesday, Mr. Mohamed Said told the court that in August 1997, Mr. Anwar became upset over allegations from two people - his driver and a female acquaintance - contending that Mr. Anwar had engaged in homosexual sex. Mr. Mohamed Said told the court that Mr. Anwar instructed the police to get written retractions from the two, and the intelligence chief said police did get the two to change their stories, after pressuring them.
After the session Thursday, defense lawyers said they were seeking a copy of a confidential 1997 report that Mr. Mohamed Said sent to the prime minister in which the intelligence chief is said to have dismissed allegations of Mr. Anwar's sexual misconduct as part of a political plot orchestrated by Mr. Anwar's enemies.
Among those allegedly named as part of the plot was Daim Zainuddin, a former finance minister who later supplanted Mr. Anwar as economics chief and who has reversed Mr. Anwar's Western-oriented economic policies.
Under the guidance of Mr. Mahathir, who has been acting as finance minister, the government has taken a number of steps, including the imposition of currency controls, in an effort to deal with the Asian economic crisis.
[Lawyers for Mr. Anwar formally asked the judge for a court order to obtain the confidential report, Reuters reported.
[''The whole case actually depends on this,'' said Pawancheek Marican, a lawyer for Mr. Anwar.
[Mr. Mohamed Said told the court that he did not think the report had concluded that there was a politically motivated plot to topple Mr. Anwar.]