Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has denied having a phone conversation with Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim soon after the party's annual general assembly (AGM) last month, describing an audio recording of the purported call as a malicious attempt to oust him.
Zahid said yesterday that he was "shocked and disappointed" with the audio recording being shared on social media, and claimed that he was a victim of a political attack.
"I vehemently deny the existence of the conversation such as in the audio recording. In fact, I'd like to stress that there was no conversation between me and Datuk Seri Anwar after the recent Umno AGM," he said in a statement.
Mr Anwar leads the three-party Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition alliance.
Zahid added: "This is a malicious and disgusting political ploy that only confirms the ongoing efforts to weaken and destroy Umno."
At the AGM on March 28, Umno delegates resolved to cut ties with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and with the Bersatu-led Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance in the next general election.
Umno now backs the 12-party PN that governs Malaysia, in an uneasy alliance. Umno at its AGM also decided that the party must not cooperate with Mr Anwar or the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party (DAP) which is a member of PH.
The four-minute audio clip has been making the rounds since late on Tuesday. The authenticity of the audio clip could not be ascertained. But it was not the first time that audio and video clips featuring alleged Malaysian leaders have been spread widely.
In the latest recording, two men are heard joking about the handling of the Umno general assembly when the man said to be Zahid attacks those who continue to work with PM Muhyiddin as "hypocrites" and "traitors".
A man who sounds like Mr Anwar says it is his first time listening in to the Umno assembly in 22 years, to which the other man responds: "Don't worry, that is only tactical."
The clip does not contain any political plots, but could still be embarrassing for both sides.
Zahid has denied ever plotting with Mr Anwar to topple PN, and his party Umno has agreed not to work with Mr Anwar or his DAP partner.
Mr Anwar himself is under pressure from his coalition not to work with tainted Umno leaders, like Zahid, who are facing corruption charges in court.
Zahid's denial came after a Member of Parliament from Umno, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, called for his ouster following the release of the audio recording, which has gone viral on social media.
Mr Nazri warned that the Barisan Nasional (BN), a four-party grouping led by Umno, will have a slim chance of winning the next general election if Zahid were to remain as Umno's president and BN chairman.
BN's other members are the Malaysian Chinese Association, Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah.
"The BN components do not respect him. Just look at the MIC annual general assembly last weekend, where they invited Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to speak to the delegates," Mr Nazri was quoted as saying by news site Free Malaysia Today.
"If the Umno president and BN chairperson were strong, the component party won't think of inviting an outsider. It is embarrassing," he added.