Malaysia's Anwar faces civil suit by sodomy accuser

Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim faces a hefty civil lawsuit by a former male aide who has accused the opposition leader of sodomising him, Anwar's lawyers said on Wednesday, calling the suit "politically motivated".

The suit, filed in June by Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, seeks damages of $15.7m and adds to mounting headaches for the opposition leader.

Anwar, aged 67, is fighting to overturn a March criminal conviction on charges that he sodomised Saiful in 2008, a ruling that Anwar calls a smear by the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

Anwar is currently also embroiled in a bitter dispute with a member of his three-party opposition alliance that threatens to break apart the coalition, whose recent electoral successes have put severe pressure on UMNO's long-ruling regime.

Anwar's lawyers said he must file a defence to Saiful's civil suit on 3 September.

"It is politically motivated to smear Anwar's name. It is a baseless suit which we will defend vigorously in court", said N Surendran, Anwar's counsel.

Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia, even if consensual, and punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

Jail time

Anwar's legal battles have gripped Malaysian politics for nearly two decades.

A one-time rising UMNO star, Anwar was ousted in a bruising power struggle and convicted and jailed on an earlier, separate sodomy charge in 1998.

He maintains UMNO is manipulating the courts to wage a long-term vendetta to blacken his name and halt the opposition's momentum.

Saiful's sodomy accusation came shortly after Anwar led the newly formed Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) coalition to historic gains in 2008 elections.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has admitted meeting with Saiful shortly before the original charges were filed, but has denied involvement.

Anwar was acquitted in 2012 on the Saiful sodomy charge.

But a court sensationally overturned that ruling in March, less than a year after general elections in which Pakatan made further inroads in parliament.

Sentenced to five years in jail, he is out on appeal. Surendran said Malaysia's highest court is expected on Thursday to fix a date for Anwar's appeal hearing.

Anwar's coalition is grappling with an open revolt by an opposition chief minister in a key state.

Khalid Ibrahim, a member of Anwar's People's Justice Party, is refusing an order to vacate his post, and has received the backing of key figures in the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party, a conservative Muslim party and Pakatan member.