Anwar denies making cash offer to get foreign minister to join opposition

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim hugging his younger brother Rosli at court on Tuesday, Feb 17, 2015. Anwar is in court to give evidence in a defamation suit against Foreign Minister Anifah Aman. -- PHOTO: PARTI KEADILAN RAKYAT (PKR)
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim hugging his younger brother Rosli at court on Tuesday, Feb 17, 2015. Anwar is in court to give evidence in a defamation suit against Foreign Minister Anifah Aman. -- PHOTO: PARTI KEADILAN RAKYAT (PKR)

KUALA LUMPUR - A week after they locked horns in a sodomy trial, Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim traded barbs with lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah again - this time in a defamation lawsuit against Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman.

Anwar, who was let out of prison for the cross-examination on Tuesday, denied he had offered RM100 million (S$38 million) through businessman Ishak Ismail to get Anifah to cross over to the opposition alliance - Pakatan Rakyat (PR) - in order to bring down the Barisan Nasional government in 2008, calling the allegation "malicious" and "nasty".

He also accused the minister of playing to the gallery by making the allegation in 2009, saying it was obviously "for a specific audience and for the Umno media".

During cross-examination, Anwar was asked by Shafee Abdullah about how he knew the businessman.

"(Ishak) was from Penang like you and would come close to me when I was a minister and Umno leader. He approached me like you did," Anwar said.

The lawyer retorted angrily, saying: "We can both play the same game if you are not answering my question. This is not the place to play the fool."

Anwar was mostly smiling during the cross-examination and showed no signs of ill-health despite his family claiming that he was forced to sleep on a thin mattress and attacked by mosquitoes in the Sungai Buloh prison.

"Thank you, Your Honour. I want to go back to Sungai Buloh," he said before leaving the stand.

Shafee Abdullah, who was the government's lead prosecutor in Anwar's sodomy trial, told reporters that Anwar was upset as "he is still reeling from his conviction" last week. The Federal Court had dismissed Anwar's appeal against his sodomy conviction and upheld his five-year jail term.

The de fecto leader of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) arrived in court on Tuesday morning and was greeted by his family and close supporters such as Selangor Chief Minister Azmin Ali. He was then taken into a holding room to be with his family before proceedings began.

"He was in high spirits," Mr Azmin told The Straits Times after a short chat with Anwar.

He was allowed to meet his family again after half an hour of cross-examination before heading back to prison as a small crowd of about 50 supporters waited for him outside the court building.

His wife and PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said they were compiling medical records to show prison authorities why the opposition leader needed special care. "It will take a toll on his health even though his spirits are soaring," she told reporters.

The judicial commissioner had fixed June 5 for clarification by both sides in the defamation suit.

Anwar is seeking RM100 million in compensatory, aggravated and exemplary damages from Anifah.

The minister dropped the bombshell during a joint news conference in 2009 with then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when he alleged that Ishak offered him RM100 million to bring 10 members of parliament from Sabah to join PR and topple the BN federal government. Anifah said then that he felt cheap by the offer and he had insisted he would not defect to the opposition despite unhappiness over BN’s loss of five states to PR in the 2008 election.

The minister, however, did not include this piece of evidence when he filed his defence in 2009 in which he had only stated that he was offered the post of deputy prime minister.

He filed his application to amend his defence last December, leading to witnesses like Anwar having to take the stand again at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

In his statement of claim, Anwar alleged that Anifah's claims were baseless, unfounded and were broadcast across both local and international media.

Ishak, who is former KFC deputy executive chairman, had also denied making any cash offer, saying the allegation had severe repercussions on his reputation.

shannont@sph.com.sg