Malaysian Anwar's sex trial put off to Thursday pending appeal

KUALA LUMPUR, April 28 (AFP) - Malaysian ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim's sex trial was again postponed Friday to next week pending his appeal to reverse a ruling that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad need not testify.
Judge Arifin Jaka initially wanted Anwar's lawyers to proceed with other witnesses but defence lawyers refused. He then set Thursday for the hearing to resume.

The defence Wednesday filed an appeal to overturn Arifin's ruling last Friday that Mahathir need not appear as a witness in Anwar's sodomy trial, preventing a courtroom showdown between the two rivals. The trial was then postponed.

When the hearing resumed Friday, Arifin told Anwar's lawyers to submit on their defence of alibi by calling other witnesses.

"The witnesses, to my mind, are not relevant to whether Dr Mahathir is called or not. What I am a little worried about is the delay," he said.

But defence counsel Karpal Singh reminded the judge that he had allowed a stay of proceedings two days ago.

"It means this trial cannot proceed until the disposal of the (appeal) case. That being the position, the calling of other witnesses itself will fly in the face of the order," he said.

"The court may well be in contempt of itself."

Prosecutor Abdul Gani Patail agreed with the defence's argument, prompting Anwar to turn back and smile at his family members sitting in the public gallery.

But Gani told Arifin that the prosecutor would try to find out whether his ruling on Mahathir could be challenged.

"The prosecution is thinking of writing to the Court of Appeal to decide essentially on whether the ruling in respect to calling Dr. Mahathir is appealable or not," he said.

Karpal immediately replied that the prosecution could only raise the matter at a preliminary hearing in the appeal court.

Arifin told them to sort it out with the appeal court and halted proceedings for the moment. But he told Anwar's lawyers to call witnesses on Thursday.

Had Mahathir been forced to appear, it would have been the first face-to-face encounter between the two politicians since Anwar was sacked in September 1998.

Anwar, jailed for six years' last April for abusing his powers, says he is the victim of a high-level conspiracy because he intended to expose corruption and was seen as a political threat to the premier.

If convicted of sodomy, he faces up to 20 years in jail.