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Judge Convicts Anwar, Sentences Him to 6 Years in Prison

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seven months after he was fired as Malaysia’s deputy premier, arrested and beaten unconscious by the chief of police, Anwar Ibrahim was convicted on corruption charges today and sentenced to six years in prison.

The verdict, rendered by High Court Justice Augustine Paul--who served as a judge and jury of one during the 78-day trial in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital--came as no surprise. Anwar himself had said he expected to be found guilty and believed that the government was also preparing treason charges against him.

“I have been dealt a judgment that stinks to high heaven,” Anwar said in a statement, according to wire services.

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“This is an absolute disgrace,” Anwar continued. “An interpretation of corruption which is ridiculous, nauseating in fact when one considers how in Malaysia billions of ringgit [the local currency] of the people’s money are being squandered by its leaders to save their children and cronies.”

Anwar, 51, who as a student radical spent 22 months in jail in the 1970s for leading a farmers’ protest, had pleaded innocent to all charges and maintained that he was the victim of a plot by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to remove him as a political challenger.

His attorneys said they will appeal his conviction on four counts of corruption. He was sentenced to six years each on the four charges, but they will run concurrently.

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The charges stem from allegations that Anwar misused his political power in 1997 by directing police officers to obtain retractions from two people who had accused him of sexual misconduct. The government also has lodged a fifth charge of corruption and five charges of sodomy against Anwar. It was unclear if the government will pursue those charges.

Until his dismissal and arrest in September, Anwar was the heir apparent to the long-lasting Mahathir and one of Southeast Asia’s rising stars. His arrest, by commandos in ski masks who rushed into his home, sparked widespread street protests for political reform in Kuala Lumpur, a normally tranquil and tightly controlled capital.

“The case was handled badly,” Mahathir, 73, said in an interview last month, referring to Anwar’s beating. “But he tried to overthrow me. He’s the one who turned the issue into a political problem. The fact is, he couldn’t accept that he’s not the first minister to be removed.”

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Anwar bore bruises and a black eye when he first appeared in court Nov. 2, bringing the trial widespread international attention. Former Police Chief Abdul Rahim Noor later admitted that he had assaulted Anwar in prison while the former deputy prime minister was handcuffed and blindfolded.

Anwar’s conviction appears to lead him into the political wilderness. Anyone sentenced to a year or more in prison is disqualified from running for office in Malaysia for five years.

Whether the reform movement that his arrest sparked gathers momentum or withers without its leader remains unclear.

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Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, hopes to carry on with the reform movement challenging Mahathir. She has formed a party to unite political parties and nongovernmental agencies against the prime minister in the next national elections, which must be held by April 2000.

Several hundred Anwar supporters gathered at the Moorish-style courthouse today when the verdict was handed down. Paramilitary troops and riot police patrolled the streets of Kuala Lumpur to deal with possible demonstrations.

Until their falling out, Anwar and Mahathir had a father-and-son relationship. They met for 30 minutes every morning and often shared family Sunday dinners.

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Then Anwar, sensing Mahathir’s vulnerability because of the Asian economic crisis, which plunged Malaysia into recession, mounted an unsuccessful political challenge against the prime minister at a party congress last summer.