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Cablegate: Opposition Leader Anwar's "Sodomy Ii" Trial Begins

VZCZCXRO5136
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHKL #0064 0341226
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 031226Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3741
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

UNCLAS KUALA LUMPUR 000064

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM MY
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION LEADER ANWAR'S "SODOMY II" TRIAL BEGINS

1. (SBU) Summary: After months of delay while his defense
team submitted motion after motion ranging from a request to
see all the evidence to outright dismissal, opposition leader
Anwar Ibrahim's trial for alleged consensual sodomy with a
former aide began in the Kuala Lumpur High Court on February
3. The prosecution immediately called to the stand the
alleged victim, 25-year-old former Anwar aide Saiful Bahari,
who described his relationship with Anwar and began a
detailed account of the events of June 26, 2008 when the
alleged sodomy occurred. At the defense's request, the judge
stopped the testimony when Saiful was on the verge of
describing sexual contact. The testimony will resume in
camera (without the public present) on February 4. Among the
70 members of the public observing the trial from the small
gallery were opposition politicians, local and international
journalists, and diplomats from several embassies. Polcouns
and Pol staff attended the February 2 and 3 sessions.

2. (SBU) Comment: Anwar's second sodomy trial is extremely
controversial in Malaysia, seen by many as a political ploy
to derail him and the opposition, and as a repeat of the 1998
sodomy trial. In launching the trial -- and there were
doubts there would be a trial -- the GOM appears to
determined to pursue the charge notwithstanding the potential
costs domestically and internationally. While there may be
many days and weeks to go before this case concludes, and
there is potential for further delays, the GOM has so far
allowed Malaysians and foreigners access to the proceedings.
Observers from the International Bar Association and
International Council of Justice were seated alongside the
attorneys in the front of the courtroom. The proceedings are
being prominently covered in both the mainstream
government-influenced media and the blogosphere, as well as
in the international press. End Summary and Comment.

3. (SBU) Anwar Ibrahim's trial began at 3:30 pm on February 3
after High Court judge Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah rejected
lead Anwar attorney (and fellow opposition Parliamentarian)
Karpal Singh's request for a stay to allow the Appeals Court
to rule on a request to obtain the government's evidence
before the trial. A clerk read the charges concerning the
alleged incident aloud in front of Anwar, standing toward the
rear of the courtroom, who said that the charges were
"frivolous" and ordered by the prosecution's "political
masters" before pleading not guilty.

4. (SBU) The prosecution immediately called 25-year-old
former Anwar aide Saiful Bahari to testify, walking
methodically through questions about his educational
background, first association with Anwar (March 2008), and
his job description. Saiful, testifying in Malaysian, said
he was paid RM 1,000 per month (about USD 270) to help with
Anwar's schedule, carry his private cellphone, and manage his
finances. At that point, Anwar leaned over to his wife, PKR
politician Wan Azizah, and said "liar" in Malaysian. The
prosecution had Saiful describe in detail how he arrived at
Anwar's condominium on June 26, 2008, and what happened next,
presenting as evidence a one-page statement that Saiful had
signed in front of police when he reported the alleged
sodomy. The defense succeeded in having a reference to
previous sexual contact between Anwar and Saiful expunged
from the statement. When Saiful had described how Anwar had
allegedly asked him to have sex and then ordered him to
undress in the bathroom, the defense requested that the
remainder of Saiful's testimony be heard in camera. The
judge agreed to do so starting at 9:30 a.m. on February 4.

5. (SBU) In parallel with trial, Anwar's legal team continues
to pursue motions to have the charges dismissed or to gain
reviews of earlier decisions denying the defense access to
the government's evidence. If accepted, those motions could
lead to renewed delays in the trial.

6. (SBU) In the months before the trial, Anwar was careful to
keep in touch both with prominent foreigners and Malaysian
supporters. On January 25, his People's Justice Party (PKR)
International Bureau held a closed door briefing for
diplomats about the trial, arguing that the GOM was
determined to convict "the Prime Minister in waiting" to
remove him from the political scene. They also argued that
there was clear medical evidence refuting the charges, and
that the judiciary was being manipulated to ensure a
conviction.
KEITH

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