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June 28, 2017

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Ibrahim lawyers get OK to question Malaysia PM Razak in sodomy trial

KUALA LUMPUR -- A judge on Monday ordered Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and other key witnesses to submit to interviews with lawyers defending opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in his sodomy trial.

Anwar had been expected to take the stand, possibly as early as Monday, for the first time in the marathon three-year trial, to defend himself against charges he sodomized a young male aide in 2008.

But Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Zabidin Mohamed Diah put the proceedings back to Aug. 15 after he granted a request by Anwar's team to seek interviews with witnesses, including the prime minister.

Speaking to reporters outside the court, Anwar called the ruling a "surprise."

"Until now, prime ministers would make scurrilous attacks on peoples' characters but would not have the courage to be interviewed and come to court. So we will see. Here there is a court order," he said.

But he said despite the judge's decision he still believed he had been denied a fair trial.

Aides to Najib could not immediately be reached for comment.

Anwar's accuser Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan has said he met with Najib before filing a police report on the sodomy accusation.

The defense says this indicates the case was manufactured and has sought interviews with Najib, his wife Rosmah Mansor and others before presenting their case and calling witnesses in court.

The defense has said those interviewed could potentially be called to take the stand in the trial.

Noorin Badaruddin, a member of the prosecution team, said Monday's ruling means witnesses sought by Anwar will be compelled to come to court for interviews with the defense but will not be legally bound to offer any testimony.

The one-time premier-in-waiting, who turns 64 on Wednesday, has blasted the charges as a political frame-up. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of sodomy, which is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Anwar's legal battles have dominated Malaysian politics for years.

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