KUALA LUMPUR: Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim today pleaded not guilty to sodomy charges, saying they were concocted as part of a political conspiracy.
"It is a malicious allegation. It is a frivolous charge. It is trumped up by political masters using the prosecution for that purpose," Anwar
said as the hearing opened this afternoon after he lost a last-ditch bid to postpone the case that threatens to end his career.
Anwar, who was sacked as deputy premier and jailed on similar charges a decade ago, says the allegations of sexual misconduct with a former aide are a political conspiracy and that he fears he will not receive a fair trial.
He intends to subpoena Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife to testify, saying they were "personally involved in the conspiracy and frame-up" and had met with his accuser before he filed his complaint.
The trial was supposed to start last July but has been postponed repeatedly as the defence mounted bids to strike out the case, and to force the prosecution to release evidence including CCTV footage and medical reports.
On Wednesday Anwar’s lawyers said the appeals court president had turned down their request for another delay until the various hearings are completed, and that the trial would start at 0630 GMT.
"We want a fair trial and a fair trial can only happen if the defence is given every opportunity to apply for and obtain all the necessary documents," defence counsel Karpal Singh told reporters.
"There is no point getting the documents in the middle of the trial. The defence must get these documents so they can plan its strategy."
Anwar’s lawyers said they expected the prosecution to begin calling witnesses straight away.
Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, the 24-year-old with whom Anwar is accused of having sexual relations, has maintained a low profile since the allegations emerged in 2008 but said Tuesday he was ready to tell his story.
"At last, after one and a half years, I will get to testify and defend myself," he said.
He did not comment on the purported meeting with Najib, but the premier last year said Saiful did visit him to allege he had been sodomised by Anwar, and that he had told the young aide to decide himself whether to lodge a police report.
The Barisan Nasional coalition government has ruled Malaysia for half a century but suffered its worst ever results in 2008 polls, when Anwar rallied the opposition to seize a third of parliamentary seats.
The 62-year-old opposition leader says the new sodomy allegations are a plot to neutralise the threat he poses to the government, which must hold national elections by 2013.
The trial, which defence lawyers say could drag on for eight months, presents a major challenge for both sides of the political divide, and will be a high-profile test of Malaysia’s justice system.
It comes as the opposition is increasingly beset by infighting, while the government is struggling to defend Malaysia’s image as a moderate and stable Muslim-majority nation.
Human rights group Amnesty International has criticised as "dirty tricks" the charges against Anwar, who in his first trial was brought to court with a black eye after a vicious beating from the police chief.
Anwar, a married father-of-six, was a celebrated finance minister before being sacked in 1998 amid a policy row with then-premier Mahathir Mohamad during the Asian economic crisis.
He was convicted of sodomy and corruption but, after six years behind bars, his sexual misconduct charge was overturned and he was freed in 2004. AFP