Diplomat saga gets political in Malaysia

Last updated 17:17 04/07/2014

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Embattled Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been caught up in the political fallout from the diplomatic furore after describing his government's handling of the alleged sexual assault in New Zealand as appalling.

Anwar made his comment on Wednesday before learning a mid-level Kiwi foreign affairs official had sent mixed messages to the Malaysian high commission in Wellington. The ambiguity resulted in Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail leaving the country.

Anwar said it was beyond belief the high commission had requested all charges against Rizalman be withdrawn on the grounds of diplomatic immunity.

The diplomat was arrested in Wellington on May 9 after an alleged attack on a 21-year-old woman in her Brooklyn home.

In a statement issued yesterday, the Malaysian Government said Anwar's comments were "completely false". They represented yet another attempt by him to opportunistically damage Malaysia's reputation for personal political gain.

The Malaysian Government said late yesterday the New Zealand Government had confirmed the Malaysian side had acted entirely in good faith.

Anwar, who heads the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition, has been on the outer with the ruling Barisan Nasional grouping in Malaysia since 1998. At that time he was viewed widely as heir apparent to then prime minister Mahathir, with the 1999 election looming. Anwar was arrested and found guilty of corruption and sentenced to six years' jail on April 14, 1999.

In a second High Court trial in August 2000 Anwar was convicted of sodomy in connection with a 1993 incident. On September 2, 2004, he successfully appealed against his sodomy conviction and was released from the massive Sungai Buloh prison outside Kuala Lumpur.

Anwar was again charged with sodomy in 2008 when he was alleged to have sodomised a staff member, who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by him.

On July 9, 2012, he was found not guilty at the end of the salacious Sodomy II High Court trial in Kuala Lumpur.

The High Court decision in this case was overturned by the Court of Appeal in March this year and Anwar was sentenced to five years' jail. He was freed on bail in March pending the winner-take-all outcome of an upcoming Federal Court appeal.

If Anwar's five-year sentence is upheld by the Federal Court his prospects of becoming Malaysia's first opposition prime minister in the forthcoming 2018 election would appear to be virtually zero.

On May 5, 2013, Anwar led his opposition coalition to its most successful performance, when it took more than 50 per cent of the popular vote in the national election.

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Despite winning the popular vote the coalition won only 89 seats in comparison with the ruling Barisan Nasional's 133 seats.

Many in the international community consider Anwar's latest Court of Appeal sodomy conviction to have been politically motivated.

- Stuff

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