KUALA LUMPUR - Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has denied speaking with Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on the phone soon after his party's annual general assembly (AGM) last month, saying an audio recording of the purported call was a malicious attempt to oust him.
Zahid said he was "shocked and disappointed" with the audio recording being shared on social media, claiming 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 on Wednesday (April 7).
Mr Anwar leads the three-party Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition alliance.
"This is a malicious and disgusting political ploy that only confirms the ongoing efforts to weaken and destroy Umno," Zahid added.
During the AGM on March 28, Umno delegates resolved to cut ties in the upcoming general election with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and with the Perikatan Nasional alliance led by Bersatu.
Umno currently backs the 12-party PN group 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), a PH member.
Zahid has recently claimed that there was a movement trying to overturn the decision to part ways with Bersatu, a party he accused of "dishonest political treachery... to destroy and replace Umno".
The four-minute audio clip has been making the rounds since late on Tuesday.
The authenticity of the 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 clip, the two men are heard exchanging praises and pleasantries, and joking over the handling of the Umno general assembly, where Zahid had attacked those who continued to work with PM Muhyiddin as "hypocrites" and "traitors".
In the recording, a man who sounds like Mr Anwar said it was 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 doesn't contain any political plots, but can still be embarrassing for both sides.
Zahid has denied ever plotting with Mr Anwar to topple PN, and said his party, Umno, had agreed not to work with Mr Anwar or his DAP partner.
On the other hand, Mr Anwar is under pressure from his coalition not to work with tainted Umno leaders, such as Zahid, who face graft charges in court.
Zahid's denial came after Umno MP Nazri Aziz called for his ouster in the wake of the audio recording going viral on social media.
Datuk Seri Nazri warned that 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 president and BN chairman.
BN's other members are the Malaysian Chinese Association, the 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 chairman were strong, the component party would not have invited an outsider. It is embarrassing," he added.
However, Umno supreme council member Mohd Puad Zarkashi has decried the audio recording as a "conspiracy of the highest level".
"This scandal of recording a personal conversation, especially involving a political opponent, is a 'black day' in Malaysia's democracy," he wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
"Cruel politicking will not end. The party-hopping cluster (of MPs) and the recording of phone conversations exist because the government of the day doesn't have a clear majority," he added.
In his statement, Zahid also insisted that he has never gone against the decisions made at the Umno supreme council and during the party's annual assembly last month.
"As the party president, I have never violated any decisions made by the supreme council or the annual general assembly," he said.
"I have instructed my officers to immediately lodge a police report to enable an investigation to be carried out to identify the mastermind of this 'scheme of thing'," he said.