Published: Wed, May 16, 2018
Worldwide | By Victor Meyer

Anwar walks free from prison and into political limelight

Anwar walks free from prison and into political limelight

Mahathir's move to release it comes as he seeks to tighten the net around Najib, whom he defeated in an election last week, and other officials over the multi-billion dollar scandal surrounding the fund's actions dating back some years.

In an astonishing U-turn past year, Anwar shook hands with Mahathir and agreed to join forces to oust scandal-tainted Najib.

Ahead of the 70-year-old leader's release, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has had a topsy-turvy relationship with his protégé-turned-rival-turned-ally, said the development will not bring immediate changes to the power structure of his five-day-old government.

"(In) an initial stage, maybe lasting one or two years, I will be the prime minister", Mahathir said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Tokyo via a video link from Malaysia on Tuesday.

He must first be elected to parliament, having been stripped of his seat in 2015 when his conviction on charges of sodomising a young male aide was upheld on appeal, sending him to jail. "There will be no special powers given except as are given to ministers or deputy ministers or deputy prime ministers", he said. The opposition also made big gains in state elections including winning Johor state, where the dominant Malay party in the long-ruling National Front coalition was founded.

Mahathir, who built much of his campaign by accusing Najib of corruption, vowed to control corruption and cronyism after the election.

The freed politician was the heir apparent to then-premier Mahathir until 1998, when he was sacked and charged for corruption and sodomy.

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The US Justice Department says $4.5 billion was looted from state investment fund 1MBD by associates of Najib between 2009 and 2014, including $700 million that landed in Najib's bank account.

Anwar is thought to be "impatient to get back into office", but Mahathir won't step down until he's ready, Meredith Weiss, professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, says, adding that there's "nothing Anwar can do" to hurry along the process.

"The base case is that Mahathir passes the baton to Anwar".

In 2008, once his ban on political participation was lifted, he was hit with further sodomy charges.

Mahathir, who earlier slammed Apandi's credibility, said the solicitor general will take over Apandi's job while he goes on leave. Najib has said the deposit was a donation by an unnamed member of the Saudi royal family which had been largely returned.

Over the weekend, Mahathir barred Najib and his wife from leaving the country.

Najib Razak has denied any wrongdoing and was cleared by Malaysia's attorney general at the time, while the fund has consistently denied any misconduct.

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