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Malaysia's Court to Rule on Anwar Corruption Conviction  - 2004-09-06

Malaysia's highest court is deciding whether it will review the graft conviction of opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim - just days after he was released from jail. The ruling is expected Tuesday and could lead to the country's most prominent activist returning to politics.

A three-judge panel heard arguments to determine whether to allow a review of Anwar Ibrahim's 1999 conviction for corruption.

The conviction - for which he served a prison term until last Thursday - bars the former deputy prime minister from running for elected office for five years.

Anwar lawyer, Sankara Nair, is hopeful the Federal Court will rule favorably to the defense.

"We went through the motions this morning ?" he said, "and if the court rules we have jurisdiction, which I believe they will ? then we will argue on the merits."

Mr. Nair says the court is to decide on Tuesday whether to allow a new appeal hearing or it could overturn the conviction outright.

Anwar Ibrahim was finance minister and deputy prime minister in 1998 until he was fired over differences in economic policy with his then boss, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. A few weeks later, after leading popular opposition protests, Anwar Ibrahim was arrested and charged with corruption and sodomy, both crimes in this mostly Muslim country.

The Anwar camp and human rights groups alleged the charges were unfounded and politically motivated.

Anwar Ibrahim served his corruption sentence, but still had nine years to serve for sodomy. That was until last Thursday when the same court overturned the sex conviction.

Attorney Sankara Nair says his client will accept the court's decision.

"We found the panel receptive today and we received a fair hearing, and we will respect the decision of this particular panel," he said.

Thousands of supporters gathered at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport during the weekend to see Anwar Ibrahim off to receive urgent surgery in Germany for a spinal problem.

The turnout showed Anwar Ibrahim - a democratic reformer - still commands potentially great political support and could be a force either in the opposition or if he returns to Malay's all-powerful ruling National Front coalition.