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Malaysian Court to Review Anwar Corruption Conviction - 2004-09-07

Malaysia's highest court will review former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's conviction for graft, less than a week after he was unexpectedly released from prison.

The decision by Malaysia's Federal Court means that there is now a chance Anwar Ibrahim could officially return to Malaysian politics almost immediately.

Sankara Nair, one of Anwar Ibrahim's lawyers, said after Tuesday's ruling that he was optimistic about his client's chances of overturning his original conviction.

The panel of three judges ruled they would allow Anwar Ibrahim's lawyers to appeal his 1999 corruption conviction. The judges then heard submissions by his lawyers and will later hear from the state prosecution.

"Of course, this is a good day for us," said Sankara Nair. "We could take a whole day tomorrow, and they would take perhaps another day, and then we can wrap it up."

His conviction for graft means the former deputy prime minister is barred from running for elected office until 2008, five years after he finished his prison sentence for the conviction in 2003.

If the conviction is overturned, Anwar Ibrahim would be free to join or even lead any political party, and run for state or national parliament seats.

Anwar Ibrahim also was found guilty of sodomy, a crime in this mostly Muslim country. That sentence was overturned last week in a landmark decision that is being widely seen as a sign that the new prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is giving the judiciary more independence. Anwar Ibrahim was immediately freed from prison.

Anwar Ibrahim has denied the charges against him, and claims they were politically motivated after he disagreed with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over economic policy.

Tuesday's court decision came as Anwar Ibrahim was recovering in a Munich hospital following surgery for a chronic back problem. He says the problem was aggravated by beatings he received after being arrested in 1998.

The assaults and general indignation over his ouster from politics and arrest in 1998 triggered some of the worst political protests in Malaysia's history.

That support is still evident today - thousands of well-wishers surrounded his home after the former deputy prime minister was freed last week. Anwar Ibrahim and his aides are hoping to capitalize on this to push for democratic reforms.